June 21 (UPI) -- A water disinfectant commonly deployed in developing countries and low-income communities could be damaging drinkers' DNA.
Colloidal silver and silver nanoparticles are frequently promoted as a low-cost water treatment solution in the developing world. But there's little research to suggest they are effective disinfectants.
Now, new research suggests colloidal silver and silver nanoparticles can damage DNA.
"Colloidal silver as a water treatment is sold across Africa and in countries like Haiti, despite the fact it doesn't treat water very effectively," Paul Hunter, a professor at the University of East Anglia, said in a news release. "The World Health Organization advises against its use as a primary water treatment. If it isn't doing any good, we wanted to investigate if in fact it could be causing harm."
In a survey of scientific literature on silver-based water treatments, researchers identified several experiments showing animals who consumed water treated with colloidal silver and silver nanoparticles suffered genetic damage -- including defective sperm, chromosomal abnormalities and DNA fragmentation.
Scientists published the results of their survey in the journal Environmental Health.
"We already know that there is little evidence that silver in water has any benefit," Hunter said. "But this study brings together a body of work which shows it is potentially damaging DNA, and harming reproductive success."
The potentially harmful side effects of silver-based health treatments are well documented. But it continues to be marketed as alternative treatment for everything from AIDs and cancer to viral and bacterial infections.
In light of their latest findings, Hunter and his colleagues believe WHO should reconsider its safety threshold for silver levels in drinking water.
"While none of the previous studies alone are definitive, and we can't use them to determine a safe level of consumption from this review, we consider that the balance of evidence suggests there is the chance of damage to DNA," Hunter said. "There is an urgent need for more research on this area to determine if people drinking water treated with silver have evidence of DNA damage."