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Effects of particle composition and species on toxicity of metallic nanomaterials in aquatic organisms


  • The research has not been reviewed by the National Science Foundation and does not necessarily represent the views of the funding agency.

  • Published on the Web 5/20/2008.


Metallic nanoparticles are among the most widely used types of engineered nanomaterials; however, little is known about their environmental fate and effects. To assess potential environmental effects of engineered nanometals, it is important to determine which species are sensitive to adverse effects of various nanomaterials. In the present study, zebrafish, daphnids, and an algal species were used as models of various trophic levels and feeding strategies. To understand whether observed effects are caused by dissolution, particles were characterized before testing, and particle concentration and dissolution were determined during exposures. Organisms were exposed to silver, copper, aluminum, nickel, and cobalt as both nanoparticles and soluble salts as well as to titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Our results indicate that nanosilver and nanocopper cause toxicity in all organisms tested, with 48-h median lethal concentrations as low as 40 and 60 μg/L, respectively, in Daphnia pulex adults, whereas titanium dioxide did not cause toxicity in any of the tests. Susceptibility to nanometal toxicity differed among species, with filter-feeding invertebrates being markedly more susceptible to nanometal exposure compared with larger organisms (i.e., zebrafish). The role of dissolution in observed toxicity also varied, being minor for silver and copper but, apparently, accounting for most of the toxicity with nickel. Nanoparticulate forms of metals were less toxic than soluble forms based on mass added, but other dose metrics should be developed to accurately assess concentration–response relationships for nanoparticle exposures.