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A Risk Assessment Framework for Assessing Metallic Nanomaterials of Environmental Concern: Aquatic Exposure and Behavior


Address correspondence to Enda J. Cummins, Biosystems Engineering, UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, College of Life Sciences, Belfield, Dublin, Ireland;


Nanomaterials are finding application in many different environmentally relevant products and processes due to enhanced catalytic, antimicrobial, and oxidative properties of materials at this scale. As the market share of nano-functionalized products increases, so too does the potential for environmental exposure and contamination. This study presents some exposure ranking methods that consider potential metallic nanomaterial surface water exposure and fate, due to nano-functionalized products, through a number of exposure pathways. These methods take into account the limited and disparate data currently available for metallic nanomaterials and apply variability and uncertainty principles, together with qualitative risk assessment principles, to develop a scientific ranking. Three exposure scenarios with three different nanomaterials were considered to demonstrate these assessment methods: photo-catalytic exterior paint (nano-scale TiO2), antimicrobial food packaging (nano-scale Ag), and particulate-reducing diesel fuel additives (nano-scale CeO2). Data and hypotheses from literature relating to metallic nanomaterial aquatic behavior (including the behavior of materials that may relate to nanomaterials in aquatic environments, e.g., metals, pesticides, surfactants) were used together with commercial nanomaterial characteristics and Irish natural aquatic environment characteristics to rank the potential concentrations, transport, and persistence behaviors within subjective categories. These methods, and the applied scenarios, reveal where data critical to estimating exposure and risk are lacking. As research into the behavior of metallic nanomaterials in different environments emerges, the influence of material and environmental characteristics on nanomaterial behavior within these exposure- and risk-ranking methods may be redefined on a quantitative basis.