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Posted: August 19, 2008

Nanomaterials - an environmental pandora's box?

(Nanowerk News) Thanks to emerging technologies and other advances, nano-enabled products and materials are appearing more often in our environment. But these products may hold unknown risks or dangers to ecosystems and the people who use them because of multilayered interactions involving nanotechnology and nanoparticles. A special open-access issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry examines these issues.
The term nanoparticle refers to the size of a solid particle. The chemistry of nanoparticles is diverse. Research shows that these particles differ dramatically in their environmental properties and toxicities.
Colloidal nanoparticles in bulk form are used commercially as sunscreens, cosmetics, and protective coatings. The estimated economic impact of nanoparticles in industrial, consumer, and medical products will be $292 billion by 2010 and $1 trillion by 2015.
Findings indicate that many nonparticles are not exceptionally toxic to standard test organisms, however additional research is needed to ensure appropriate methods are being used and the most highly exposed and sensitive organisms are being tested.
“Nanotechnology will be critical to solving global problems facing the environment and its inhabitants; however, the broad scope of the health and safety research as well as the pace at which data are needed to protect human health and the environment exceed current research efforts,” writes Sally S. Tinkle in the introductory column for this special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Articles in this special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, published by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, highlight these key findings:
  • Nanoparticles can be toxic either due to metals associated with their structure or by themselves.
  • Ingestion of nanoparticles by terrestrial insects can affect metabolic processes.
  • Oxidative stress can affect fish health when antioxidant defenses are insufficient.
  • Absorption onto algal cell walls can cause toxicity.
  • Growth of some garden vegetables—for example, the tomato—can be affected while others—onion and cucumber—are not.
  • Metals in quantum dots can be transferred to higher trophic levels.
  • Different and possibly particle-specific approaches will be needed to fully determine environmental consequences.
  • Scientists and members of groups like the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry are working to develop methods and generate data that will allow for the evaluation of the risk of nanoparticles in the environment. With these evaluations, people will be able to enjoy the benefits of nanoparticles—in fields such as medicine, renewable energy, improved fuels and combustion, and other consumer products—while ensuring the compatibility of these technologies with the environment.
    This special issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is the largest and most comprehensive set of nanotechnology papers to date. Open access to the articles in this issue will be available for six months at http://www.setacjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-toc&issn=1552-8618&volume=27&issue=9
    Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry is published by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The journal is interdisciplinary in scope and integrates the fields of environmental toxicology; environmental, analytical, and molecular chemistry; ecology; physiology; biochemistry; microbiology; genetics; genomics; environmental engineering; chemical, environmental, and biological modeling; epidemiology; and earth sciences. For more information about the society, see www.setacjournals.org.
    Source: Allen Press