Nano and Environment: Where to look for the nano-needle in the environmental haystack?

Seminar, May 20: “Nano and Environment: Where to look for the nano-needle in the environmental haystack?”

Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering Special Seminar Wednesday, May 20th at noon

234 Ames Hall

Nano and Environment: Where to look for the nano-needle in the environmental haystack?

Bernd Nowack
Materials, Products and the Environment Group Empa – Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research St. Gallen, Switzerland

The behavior and the effects of nanomaterials in the environment are currently under heavy investigation and are discussed both in the scientific world as well as in the public. An elementary step towards a quantitative assessment of the risks of new compounds to the environment is to calculate their predicted environmental concentrations (PEC). We used a life-cycle perspective to model the quantities of engineered nanoparticles released into the environment.

The quantification was based on a substance flow analysis of nanomaterials from products to air, soil, water and sediments. The method was applied to the engineered nanoparticles titanium dioxide, silver, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, and ZnO. The PEC-values obtained with this modeling were then compared to the predicted no effect concentrations (PNEC) derived from the ecotoxicological literature to estimate a possible risk. The expected concentrations of the nanomaterials in the different environmental compartments vary widely, caused by the different life cycles of the nanomaterial-containing products. The results of this study make it possible for the first time to carry out a quantitative risk assessment of nanomaterials in the environment and suggest further detailed studies of nano-Ag, nano-ZnO and nano-TiO2. The results also provide information in which environmental compartments we should first look for nanomaterials and what concentrations we can expect.

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