Potential scenarios for nanomaterial release and subsequent alteration in the environment


  • This paper evolved from discussions held at a SETAC-endorsed Technical Workshop held at Clemson University in August, 2010. The workshop was sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, Arcadis-US, and the Clemson University Institute of Environmental Toxicology.


The risks associated with exposure to engineered nanomaterials (ENM) will be determined in part by the processes that control their environmental fate and transformation. These processes act not only on ENM that might be released directly into the environment, but more importantly also on ENM in consumer products and those that have been released from the product. The environmental fate and transformation are likely to differ significantly for each of these cases. The ENM released from actual direct use or from nanomaterial-containing products are much more relevant for ecotoxicological studies and risk assessment than pristine ENM. Released ENM may have a greater or lesser environmental impact than the starting materials, depending on the transformation reactions and the material. Almost nothing is known about the environmental behavior and the effects of released and transformed ENM, although these are the materials that are actually present in the environment. Further research is needed to determine whether the release and transformation processes result in a similar or more diverse set of ENM and ultimately how this affects environmental behavior. This article addresses these questions, using four hypothetical case studies that cover a wide range of ENM, their direct use or product applications, and their likely fate in the environment. Furthermore, a more definitive classification scheme for ENM should be adopted that reflects their surface condition, which is a result of both industrial and environmental processes acting on the ENM. The authors conclude that it is not possible to assess the risks associated with the use of ENM by investigating only the pristine form of the ENM, without considering alterations and transformation processes. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012;31:50–59. © 2011 SETAC