Emerging patterns for engineered nanomaterials in the environment: a review of fate and toxicity studies

  • Kendra L. Garner
  • Arturo A. KellerEmail author


A comprehensive assessment of the environmental risks posed by engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) entering the environment is necessary, due in part to the recent predictions of ENM release quantities and because ENMs have been identified in waste leachate. The technical complexity of measuring ENM fate and transport processes in all environments necessitates identifying trends in ENM processes. Emerging information on the environmental fate and toxicity of many ENMs was collected to provide a better understanding of their environmental implications. Little research has been conducted on the fate of ENMs in the atmosphere; however, most studies indicate that ENMs will in general have limited transport in the atmosphere due to rapid settling. Studies of ENM fate in realistic aquatic media indicates that in general, ENMs are more stable in freshwater and stormwater than in seawater or groundwater, suggesting that transport may be higher in freshwater than in seawater. ENMs in saline waters generally sediment out over the course of hours to days, leading to likely accumulation in sediments. Dissolution is significant for specific ENMs (e.g., Ag, ZnO, copper ENMs, nano zero-valent iron), which can result in their transformation from nanoparticles to ions, but the metal ions pose their own toxicity concerns. In soil, the fate of ENMs is strongly dependent on the size of the ENM aggregates, groundwater chemistry, as well as the pore size and soil particle size. Most groundwater studies have focused on unfavorable deposition conditions, but that is unlikely to be the case in many natural groundwaters with significant ionic strength due to hardness or salinity. While much still needs to be better understood, emerging patterns with regards to ENM fate, transport, and exposure combined with emerging information on toxicity indicate that risk is low for most ENMs, though current exposure estimates compared with current data on toxicity indicates that at current production and release levels, exposure to Ag, nZVI, and ZnO may cause toxicity to freshwater and marine species.


Aggregation Sedimentation Dissolution Groundwater Soil Natural waters Environmental and health effects 

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UC Center on the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology and School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraCA

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