Studies of Nanoparticles Important for Risk Assessments

News: Feb 21, 2014

In products and in our environment there is plenty of nanoparticles. Studying how nanoparticles interact with other substances is important in order to perform environmental and health risk assessments.

Nanoparticles are particles with diameter smaller than 0.0001 millimeter.

- Nanoparticles interact with natural substances in aquatic environments that can affect how the nanoparticles are transformed, says Julián Gallego at the Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Gothenburg.

Nanoparticles are also formed naturally

Nanoparticles are manufactured using nanotechnology in industry. But there are also "natural" nanoparticles, which are the result of geological, chemical and biological processes.

Natural nanoparticles are found for example as clay minerals, which comes from rock erosion, or organic compounds that come from the secretions of plants and animals. Natural nanoparticles can also be produced from degraded biological material or precipitates from certain chemicals, which can form small crystals in the nanometer scale.

- Therefore, the identification of manufactured nanoparticles in the environment is a challenge because they must be distinguished from the natural nanoparticles, says Julián Gallego.

Important to develop models for risk assessment

In order to develop and produce nanomaterials in a sustainable manner it is of the utmost importance to be able to make estimates of exposure and risk.

This type of research could contribute to the development of models that help to elucidate the possible emission of nanoparticles. These models could follow the transformation of the nanoparticles and describe how they distribute and the way in which people and the environment may get exposed to them.

- Nanoparticles from products can end up in streams and be transported long distances. Harmful nanoparticles, such as those composed of heavy metals, can in this way exert influence for a long time and then increase the risk for human and environmental exposure, says Julián Gallego.

Six basins have been studied

Water samples from six model European river basins, with common chemical properties, were identified using statistical and geographical information tools.

With the help of these six water classes it was possible to test the transformation and transport processes of nanoparticles in typical European aquatic environments.

One of the experiments studied how gold nanoparticles clumped together (aggregated) in water containing one type of organic material and a clay mineral that is very common in aquatic environments.

- It was found that gold nanoparticles were stable against aggregation in water containing small amounts of ions. Natural organic matter was found to be important in determining the fate of nanoparticles in these aquatic environments.

How organisms in waterways are affected will not only depend on the concentration of nanoparticles, but also on which chemical environment they will encounter.

Photos: Julia Hammes and Julián Gallego

Thesis title
On the Exposure Assessment of Engineered Nanoparticles in Aquatic Environments >>

Contact information
Julián Gallego, +46765506372,


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Page Manager: Robert Karlsson|Last update: 11/17/2014

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