• Ecotoxicity;
  • Silica nanoparticles;
  • Surface area;
  • Green alga


To date, (eco)toxicological information on industrial nanoparticles is very limited. In the present study, the hypothesis that the ecotoxicity of nanoparticles (NPs) is related to their surface area and not to their mass was tested using a freshwater green algal species. Particle diameter and morphology were assessed using light scattering and electron microscopy techniques. To assess the toxicity of silica (SiO2) nanoparticles, the growth inhibition of the alga Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata when exposed to stable silica suspensions was monitored. Commercial LUDOX® suspensions of nanoparticles with 12.5 and 27.0 nm diameter were found to be toxic, with 72-h 20% effect concentrations for growth rate (ErC20) values ± standard deviation (n = 5) of 20.0 ± 5.0 and 28.8 ± 3.2 mg/L, respectively. The toxicity was attributable to the solid nanospheres, because no aggregation was observed and dissolution of the nanoparticles was negligible. When expressing the concentration as a surface area, the difference in toxicity was not significant. In the latter case, 72-h ErC20 values ± standard deviation (n = 5) were 4.7 ±1.2 and 3.9 ± 0.4 m2/L. Silica bulk material was found to be nontoxic up to 1 g/L. In an additional experiment with 100 mg/L of 12.5 and 27.0 nm SiO2 NPs, the interaction between the nanoparticles and algal cells was studied using transmission electron microscopy. Although the particles clearly adhered to the outer cell surface, no evidence was found for particle uptake.