The effects of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) on terrestrial ecosystems need to be better understood and assessed. Cationic silver (Ag+) has well-documented toxicity against bacteria, but it is not clear what will be the effect of nanoscale Ag. In the present study, the potential effects of AgNPs were investigated in soils by measuring activity of the enzymes phosphomonoesterase, arylsulfatase, β-D-glucosidase, and leucine-aminopeptidase. The toxicity of AgNPs was compared with that of ionic Ag, and the ameliorating effects of soil organic matter were evaluated. To this end, 2 soils with different organic matter contents were artificially contaminated with either AgNPs or Ag-acetate at equivalent total Ag concentrations. In general, enzyme activities were inhibited as a function of the Ag concentration in the soil. In the AgNP exposures, only a small fraction of the AgNP was actually truly dissolved (found in the <1-nm fraction), suggesting that the particulate forms of AgNPs resulted in a significant inhibition of soil enzymes. The addition of organic matter to the soils appeared to enhance enzyme activities; however, the mechanism of organic matter action is not clear given that dissolved Ag concentrations were similar in both the organic-matter–amended and unamended soils. The present study shows that the AgNP produces significant negative effects on the soil enzyme activities tested. The Ag chemical speciation measurements suggested that the AgNP caused greater toxic effects to the soil enzymes at the low Ag concentrations. For the larger concentrations of total soil Ag, causes of the negative effects on enzyme activities are less obvious but suggest that colloidal forms of Ag play a role. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:115–125. © 2013 SETAC
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