This review summarises and evaluates the present knowledge on the behaviour, the biological effects and the routes of uptake of silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) to organisms, with considerations on the nanoparticle physicochemistry in the ecotoxicity testing systems used. Different types of Ag NP syntheses, characterisation techniques and predicted current and future concentrations in the environment are also outlined. Rapid progress in this area has been made over the last few years, but there is still a critical lack of understanding of the need for characterisation and synthesis in environmental and ecotoxicological studies. Concentration and form of nanomaterials in the environment are difficult to quantify and methodological progress is needed, although sophisticated exposure models show that predicted environmental concentrations (PECs) for Ag NPs in different environmental compartments are at the range of ng L(-1) to mg kg(-1). The ecotoxicological literature shows that concentrations of Ag NPs below the current and future PECs, as low as just a few ng L(-1), can affect prokaryotes, invertebrates and fish indicating a significant potential, though poorly characterised, risk to the environment. Mechanisms of toxicity are still poorly understood although it seems clear that in some cases nanoscale specific properties may cause biouptake and toxicity over and above that caused by the dissolved Ag ion. This review concludes with a set of recommendations for the advancement of understanding of the role of nanoscale silver in environmental and ecotoxicological research.
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