Global life cycle releases of engineered nanomaterials
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- Keller, A.A., McFerran, S., Lazareva, A. et al. J Nanopart Res (2013) 15: 1692. doi:10.1007/s11051-013-1692-4
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Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are now becoming a significant fraction of the material flows in the global economy. We are already reaping the benefits of improved energy efficiency, material use reduction, and better performance in many existing and new applications that have been enabled by these technological advances. As ENMs pervade the global economy, however, it becomes important to understand their environmental implications. As a first step, we combined ENM market information and material flow modeling to produce the first global assessment of the likely ENM emissions to the environment and landfills. The top ten most produced ENMs by mass were analyzed in a dozen major applications. Emissions during the manufacturing, use, and disposal stages were estimated, including intermediate steps through wastewater treatment plants and waste incineration plants. In 2010, silica, titania, alumina, and iron and zinc oxides dominate the ENM market in terms of mass flow through the global economy, used mostly in coatings/paints/pigments, electronics and optics, cosmetics, energy and environmental applications, and as catalysts. We estimate that 63–91 % of over 260,000–309,000 metric tons of global ENM production in 2010 ended up in landfills, with the balance released into soils (8–28 %), water bodies (0.4–7 %), and atmosphere (0.1–1.5 %). While there are considerable uncertainties in the estimates, the framework for estimating emissions can be easily improved as better data become available. The material flow estimates can be used to quantify emissions at the local level, as inputs for fate and transport models to estimate concentrations in different environmental compartments.