Bioaccumulation and toxicity of silver compounds: A review

Authors

  • Hans Toni Ratte

    Corresponding author
    1. Aachen University of Technology, Chair of Biology V (Ecology, Ecotoxicology, Ecochemistry), Worringerweg 1, D-52056 Aachen, Germany
    • Aachen University of Technology, Chair of Biology V (Ecology, Ecotoxicology, Ecochemistry), Worringerweg 1, D-52056 Aachen, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

A eview of the literature revealed that bioaccumulation of silver in soil is rather low, even if the soil is amended with silver-containing sewage sludge. Plants grown on tailings of silver mines were found to have silver primarily in the root systems. In marine and freshwater systems, the highest reported bioconcentration factors (BCFs) were observed in algae (>105), probably because of adsorption of the dissolved silver (<0.45 μm fraction) to the cell surface. In herbivorous organisms (e.g., zooplankton and bivalves), the BCF was lower by about two orders of magnitude. Low amounts of silver were assimilated from food with no substantial biomagnification. In carnivores (e.g., fish), the BCF was also lower by one order of magnitude with no indication of biomagnification. Toxicity of silver occurs mainly in the aqueous phase and depends on the concentration of active, free Ag+ ions. Accordingly, many processes and water characteristics reduce silver toxicity by stopping the formation of free Ag+, binding Ag+, or preventing binding of Ag+ to the reactive surfaces of organisms. The solubility of a silver compound, and the presence of complexing agents (e.g., thiosulfate or chloride), dissolved organic carbon, and competing ions are important. In soil, sewage sludge, and sediments, in which silver sulfide predominates, the toxicity of silver, even at high total concentrations, is very low. The highly soluble silver thiosulfate complex has low toxicity, which can be attributed to the silver complexed by thiosulfate. Silver nitrate is one of the most toxic silver compounds. The toxic potential of silver chloride complexes in seawater is and will be an important issue for investigation. Aquatic chronic tests, long-term tests, and tests including sensitive life stages show lower toxicity thresholds (˜1 μg Ag+/L). The organisms viewed as most sensitive to silver are small aquatic invertebrates, particularly embryonic and larval stages.

Ancillary