• Nanoparticle;
  • Quantification;
  • Wastewater;
  • Silver


The environmental prevalence of engineered nanomaterials, particularly nanoparticulate silver (AgNP), is expected to increase substantially. The ubiquitous use of commercial products containing AgNP may result in their release to the environment, and the potential for ecological effects is unknown. Detecting engineered nanomaterials is one of the greatest challenges in quantifying their risks. Thus, it is imperative to develop techniques capable of measuring and characterizing exposures, while dealing with the innate difficulties of nanomaterial detection in environmental samples, such as low-engineered nanomaterial concentrations, aggregation, and complex matrices. Here the authors demonstrate the use of inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry, operated in a single-particle counting mode (SP-ICP-MS), to detect and quantify AgNP. In the present study, two AgNP products were measured by SP-ICP-MS, including one of precisely manufactured size and shape, as well as a commercial AgNP-containing health food product. Serial dilutions, filtration, and acidification were applied to confirm that the method detected particles. Differentiation of dissolved and particulate silver (Ag) is a feature of the technique. Analysis of two wastewater samples demonstrated the applicability of SP-ICP-MS at nanograms per liter Ag concentrations. In this pilot study, AgNP was found at 100 to 200 ng/L in the presence of 50 to 500 ng/L dissolved Ag. The method provides the analytical capability to monitor Ag and other metal and metal oxide nanoparticles in fate, transport, stability, and toxicity studies using a commonly available laboratory instrument. Rapid throughput and element specificity are additional benefits of SP-ICP-MS as a measurement tool for metal and metal oxide engineered nanoparticles. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:115–121. © 2011 SETAC