Nanoparticles in the environment – Lessons learned today?

In this post, Simon Lüderwald talks about their recently accepted literature review “Nanoparticles in the environment – where do we come from, where do we go to?”.

Nanoparticles (NPs) serve various industrial and domestic purposes, reflected in their steadily increasing production volume. Their economic success, however, comes along with their presence in the environment and the risk of potentially adverse effects in natural systems. Over the last decade, substantial progress regarding the understanding of sources, fate and effects of nanoparticles have been made. Predictions of environmental concentrations based on modelling approaches could recently be confirmed by measured concentrations in the field. Nonetheless, analytical techniques are still under development to more efficiently and reliably characterise and quantify NPs, as well as to detect them in complex environmental matrixes.

Mechanisms responsible for ecotoxicity of NPs in aquatic and terrestrial regimes: (a) formation of reactive oxygen species, (b) ion release, (c) internalisation, and (d) biological surface coating (graphic by S. Lüderwald)

Lately, effects of NPs on aquatic and terrestrial systems have received increasing attention, while the debate on the relevance of NP-released metal ions for their toxicity is still ongoing. Contrastingly, inert NPs mostly interact with biota through physiological pathways, such as biological surface coating. Moreover, co-occurring contaminants are also likely to interact with NPs, inducing a whole new exposure scenario for both nanoparticles and co-occurring contaminants.

The review paper highlights recent achievements in the field of nano-ecotoxicology in both aquatic and terrestrial systems but also refers to substantial gaps that require further attention in the future. Over the past decade the understanding of sources, fate and effects of NPs in the environment has made significant progress. Besides the call to consider environmentally relevant concentrations of NPs as well as to monitor the fate of NPs during biological testing, there are multiple open questions that need further consideration.

The paper was authored by Mirco Bundschuh, Juliane Filser, Simon Lüderwald, Moira S. McKee, George Metreveli, Gabriele E. Schaumann, Ralf Schulz, and Stephan Wagner and published in Environmental Sciences Europe.