Silver contamination and its toxicity and risk management in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems

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Science of the Total Environment


Silver (Ag), a naturally occurring, rare and precious metal, is found in major minerals such as cerargyrite (AgCl), pyrargyrite (Ag3SbS3), proustite (Ag3AsS3), and stephanite (Ag5SbS4). From these minerals, Ag is released into soil and water through the weathering of rocks and mining activities. Silver also enters the environment by manufacturing and using Ag compounds in electroplating and photography, catalysts, medical devices, and batteries. With >400 t of Ag NPs produced yearly, Ag NPs have become a rapidly growing source of anthropogenic Ag input in the environment. In soils and natural waters, most Ag is sorbed to soil particles and sediments and precipitated as oxides, carbonates, sulphides, chlorides and hydroxides. Silver and its compounds are toxic, and humans and other animals are exposed to Ag through inhalation of air and the consumption of Ag-contaminated food and drinking water. Remediation of Ag-contaminated soil and water sources can be achieved through immobilization and mobilization processes. Immobilization of Ag in soil and groundwater reduces the bioavailability and mobility of Ag, while mobilization of Ag in the soil can facilitate its removal. This review provides an overview of the current understanding of the sources, geochemistry, health hazards, remediation practices and regulatory mandates of Ag contamination in complex environmental settings, including soil and aquatic ecosystems. Knowledge gaps and future research priorities in the sustainable management of Ag contamination in these settings are also discussed.


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