Category Archives: environment

New model to track flow of nanomaterials through our air, earth, and water

Just how many tons of nanoparticles are making their way through the environment? Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) have devised a new model which could help answer that question. From a May 12, 2016 news item on,

Carbon nanotubes remain attached to materials for years while titanium dioxide and nanozinc are rapidly washed out of cosmetics and accumulate in the ground. Within the National Research Program “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64) a team led by Empa scientist Bernd Nowack has developed a new model to track the flow of the most important nanomaterials in the environment.

A May 12, 2016 Empa press release by Michael Hagmann, which also originated the news item, provides more detail such as an estimated tonnage for titanium dioxide nanoparticles produced annually in Europe,

How many man-made nanoparticles make their way into the air, earth or water? In order to assess these amounts, a group of researchers led by Bernd Nowack from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, has developed a computer model as part of the National Research Program “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64). “Our estimates offer the best available data at present about the environmental accumulation of nanosilver, nanozinc, nano-tinanium dioxide and carbon nanotubes”, says Nowack.

In contrast to the static calculations hitherto in use, their new, dynamic model does not just take into account the significant growth in the production and use of nanomaterials, but also makes provision for the fact that different nanomaterials are used in different applications. For example, nanozinc and nano-titanium dioxide are found primarily in cosmetics. Roughly half of these nanoparticles find their way into our waste water within the space of a year, and from there they enter into sewage sludge. Carbon nanotubes, however, are integrated into composite materials and are bound in products such as which are immobilized and are thus found for example in tennis racquets and bicycle frames. It can take over ten years before they are released, when these products end up in waste incineration or are recycled.

39,000 metric tons of nanoparticles

The researchers involved in this study come from Empa, ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. They use an estimated annual production of nano-titanium dioxide across Europe of 39,000 metric tons – considerably more than the total for all other nanomaterials. Their model calculates how much of this enters the atmosphere, surface waters, sediments and the earth, and accumulates there. In the EU, the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer (a practice forbidden in Switzerland) means that nano-titanium dioxide today reaches an average concentration of 61 micrograms per kilo in affected soils.

Knowing the degree of accumulation in the environment is only the first step in the risk assessment of nanomaterials, however. Now this data has to be compared with results of eco-toxicological tests and the statutory thresholds, says Nowack. A risk assessment has not been carried out with his new model so far. Earlier work with data from a static model showed, however, that the concentrations determined for all four nanomaterials investigated are not expected to have any impact on the environment.

But in the case of nanozinc at least, its concentration in the environment is approaching the critical level. This is why this particular nanomaterial has to be given priority in future eco-toxicological studies – even though nanozinc is produced in smaller quantities than nano-titanium dioxide. Furthermore, eco-toxicological tests have until now been carried out primarily with freshwater organisms. The researchers conclude that additional investigations using soil-dwelling organisms are a priority.

Here are links to and citations for papers featuring the work,

Dynamic Probabilistic Modeling of Environmental Emissions of Engineered Nanomaterials by Tian Yin Sun†, Nikolaus A. Bornhöft, Konrad Hungerbühler, and Bernd Nowack. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2016, 50 (9), pp 4701–4711 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05828 Publication Date (Web): April 04, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

Probabilistic environmental risk assessment of five nanomaterials (nano-TiO2, nano-Ag, nano-ZnO, CNT, and fullerenes) by Claudia Coll, Dominic Notter, Fadri Gottschalk, Tianyin Sun, Claudia Som, & Bernd Nowack. Nanotoxicology Volume 10, Issue 4, 2016 pages 436-444 DOI: 10.3109/17435390.2015.1073812 Published online: 10 Nov 2015

The first paper, which is listed in Environmental Science & Technology, appears to be open access while the second paper is behind a paywall.

Functionalized nanomaterials for carbon capture

A few years ago I was at a breakfast hosted by a local member of the Canadian Parliament (Joyce Murray, Liberal, riding of Vancouver Quadra) and was unable to reply to a tablemate’s question about nanotechnology research in the area of carbon capture.  Since then I’ve stumbled across a few pieces of applicable research and hopefully someone will again ask me the question. In the meantime, some relevant recent work from India. From a May 9, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Climate change due to excessive CO2 levels is one of the most serious problems humankind has ever faced. This has resulted in abrupt weather patterns such as flood and drought, which are extremely disruptive and detrimental to life, as we have been witnessing in India in recent years. Mitigating rising CO2 levels is of prime importance. In a new development, scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, have developed a novel design of CO2 sorbents that show superior CO2 capture capacity and stability over conventional materials.

A May 9, 2016 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The immobilization of functional amines on a porous solid support can result in stable and efficient CO2 sorbent materials compared to similar liquid sorbents. A critical disadvantage however, is a drastic decrease in the textural properties of these supports (i.e., their surface area and pore volume), leading to a decrease in the CO2 capture capability.

To overcome this challenge, scientists at TIFR Mumbai, have designed novel functionalised nanomaterials that allows higher amine loading with a minimal decrease in surface area.

“Our fibrous nanosilica (KCC-1) should be a good candidate for use as a support to design efficient CO2 sorbents that would allow better capture capacity, kinetics and recylability”, says Dr Vivek Polshettiwar, the lead scientist of this study. A unique feature of KCC-1 is its high surface area, which originates from its fibrous morphology and not from its mesoporous channels (unlike in other well studied materials like SBA-15 or MCM-41). This study, published recently in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, demonstrates the usefulness of the fibrous morphology of KCC-1 compared to conventional ordered mesoporous silica. This work is in continuation of the teams efforts to develop sustainable catalysts and sorbents.

The KCC-1-based sorbents showed several advantages over conventional silica-based sorbents, including i) high amine loading, ii) minimum reduction in surface area after functionalization and iii) more accessibility of the amine sites to enhance CO2 capture efficiency (i.e., capture capacity, kinetics and recyclability), due to the fibrous structure and high accessible surface area of KCC-1.

The demand for such efficient sorbents is on the rise since CO2 capture is one of the best solutions to mitigate the rising levels of CO2. Solid sorbents exhibit better efficiency with greater potential to overcome the shortcomings of liquid sorbents. The use of mesoporous silica materials functionalized with various amino groups is well reported. Although materials like SBA-15 and MCM-41, for example, have attracted significant attention because their large pore sizes can accommodate a variety of amine molecules and the high surface area allows for a higher loading of these functional molecules, they suffer from the disadvantages of a decrease in textural properties, thus making KCC-1 a suitable candidate for more efficient CO2 capture.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Design of CO2 sorbents using functionalized fibrous nanosilica (KCC-1): insights into the effect of the silica morphology (KCC-1 vs. MCM-41) by Baljeet Singh and Vivek Polshettiwar. J. Mater. Chem. A, 2016,4, 7005-7019 DOI: 10.1039/C6TA01348A First published online 08 Mar 2016

I believe this paper is behind a paywall.

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab opens new facility in India and competes in the Carbon XPRIZE


The Ingenuity Lab in Alberta has made two recent announcements. The first one to catch my attention was a May 7, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Ingenuity Lab is proud to announce the opening of the Ingenuity Lab Research Hub at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala India, to implement applied research and enable the translation of new 22nd century technologies. This new facility is the result of collaboration between the International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience Nanotechnology (IIUCNN) and Ingenuity Lab to leverage what each participant does best.

Should the Nanotechnology Now news item not be available you can find the same information in a May 6, 2016 news item in The Canadian Business News Journal. Here’s the rest of the news item,

Ingenuity Lab, led by Dr. Carlo Montemagno, brings the best minds together to address global challenges and was in 2014 voted the Best Nanotechnology Research Organisation in 2014 by The New Economy. IIUCNN is led by Professor Sabu Thomas, whose vision it is to perform and coordinate academic and research activities in the frontier areas of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology by incorporating physical, chemical, biological and environmental aspects.

The two institutions are world-renowned for their work, and the new partnership should cover areas as diverse as catalysis, macromolecules, environmental chemistry, biological processes and health and wellness.

“The initial focus,” according to Ingenuity Lab’s Director Dr. Carlo Montemagno, “Will be on inexpensive point of care healthcare technologies and water availability for both agriculture and personal consumption.” However, in the future, he says, “We plan to expand the scope to include food safety and energy systems.”

Ingenuity Lab’s role is to focus on producing, adapting and supplying new materials to Ingenuity Lab India to focus on final device development and field-testing. The India team members know what system characteristics work best in developing economies, and will establish the figures of merit to make an appropriate solution. Alberta team members will then use this information to exercise its skills in advance materials and systems design to be crafted into its final form and field-tested.

The collaboration is somewhat unique in that it includes the bilateral exchange of students and researchers to facilitate the commercial translation of new and game changing technologies.

Dr. Babu Sebastian, Honourable Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, will declare the opening of the new facility in the presence of Dr. Montemagno, who will explain the vision of this research hub in association with his plenary lecture of ICM 2016.


A May 9, 2016 press release on Market Wired describes Ingenuity Lab’s latest venture into carbon ‘transformation’,

Alberta-based Ingenuity Lab has entered the Carbon XPRIZE under the name of Ingenuity Carbon Solutions. With competition registration taking place in March, Ingenuity Carbon Solutions plans to launch its latest carbon transformation technology and win the backing it so deserves on the world stage.

Ingenuity Lab is working to develop a technology that transforms CO2 emissions and changes the conversation on carbon and its consequences for the environment. By developing nano particles that have the capability to sequester CO2 from facility gas flue emissions, the technology can metabolize emissions into marketable by-products.

The Carbon XPRIZE this year seeks to inspire solutions to the issue of climate change by incentivizing the development of new and emerging CO2 conversation technologies. Described recently in a WEF [World Economic Forum] survey as the biggest potential threat to the economy in 2016, climate change has been targeted as a priority issue, and the XPRIZE has done a great deal to provide answers to the climate question.

Renowned for its role in bringing new and radical thought leaders into the public domain, the XPRIZE Board of Trustees include Elon Musk, James Cameron and Arianna Huffington and the prize never fails to attract the world’s brightest minds.

This year’s Carbon XPRIZE challenges participants including Ingenuity Lab and its Ingenuity Carbon Solutions team to reimagine the climate question by accelerating the development of technologies to convert CO2 into valuable products. Ingenuity Carbon Solutions and others will compete in a three-round competition for a total prize purse of $20m, with the winnings going towards the technology’s continued development.

I hope to hear more good news soon. Alberta could certainly do with some of that as it copes with Fort McMurray’s monstrous wildfire (more here in a NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center May 9, 2016 news release on EurekAlert).

For anyone interesting Alberta’s ‘nano’ Ingenuity Lab, more can be found here.

Nanosafety Cluster newsletter—excerpts from the Spring 2016 issue

The European Commission’s NanoSafety Cluster Newsletter (no.7) Spring 2016 edition is some 50 pp. long and it provides a roundup of activities and forthcoming events. Here are a few excerpts,

“Closer to the Market” Roadmap (CTTM) now finalised

Hot off the press! the Cluster’s “Closer to the Market” Roadmap (CTTM)  is  a  multi-dimensional,  stepwise  plan  targeting  a framework to deliver safe nano-enabled products to the market. After some years of discussions, several consultations of a huge number of experts in the nanosafety-field, conferences at which the issue of market implementation of nanotechnologies was talked  about,  writing  hours/days,  and  finally  two public consultation rounds, the CTTM is now finalized.

As stated in the Executive Summary: “Nano-products and nano-enabled applications need a clear and easy-to-follow human and environmental safety framework for the development along the innovation chain from initial idea to market and beyond that facilitates  navigation  through  the  complex  regulatory and approval processes under which different product categories fall.

Download it here, and get involved in its implementation through the Cluster!
Authors: Andreas Falk* 1, Christa Schimpel1, Andrea Haase3, Benoît Hazebrouck4, Carlos Fito López5, Adriele Prina-Mello6, Kai Savolainen7, Adriënne Sips8, Jesús M. Lopez de Ipiña10, Iseult Lynch11, Costas Charitidis12, Visser Germ13

NanoDefine hosts Synergy Workshop with NSC projects

NanoDefine  organised  the  2nd Nanosafety  Cluster  (NSC)  Synergy Workshop  at  the  Netherlands  House  for Education  and  Research  in Brussels  on  2nd  February  2016. The  aim  was  to  identify  overlaps and synergies existing between different projects that could develop into
outstanding cooperation opportunities.

One central issue was the building of a common ontology and a European framework for data management and analysis, as planned within eNanoMapper, to facilitate a closer interdisciplinary collaboration between  NSC projects and to better address the need for proper data storage, analysis and sharing (Open Access).

Unexpectedly, there’s a Canadian connection,

Discovering protocols for nanoparticles: the soils case
NanoFASE WP7 & NanoSafety Cluster WG3 Exposure

In NanoFASE, of course, we focus on the exposure to nanomaterials. Having consistent and meaningful protocols to characterize the fate of nanomaterials in different environments is therefore of great interest to us. Soils and sediments are in this respect very cumbersome. Also in the case of conventional chemicals has the development of  protocols for fate description in terrestrial systems been a long route.

The special considerations of nanomaterials make this job even harder. For instance, how does one handle the fact that the interaction between soils and nanoparticles is always out of equilibrium? How does one distinguish between the nanoparticles that are still mobile and those that are attached to soil?

In the case of conventional chemicals, a single measurement of a filtered soil suspension often suffices to find the mobile fraction, as long one is sure that equilibrium has been attained. Equilibrium never occurs in the case of  nanoparticles, and the distinction between attached/suspended particles is analytically less clear to do.

Current activity in NanoFASE is focusing at finding protocols to characterize this interaction. Not only does the protocol have to provide meaningful parameters that can be used, e.g. in modelling, but also the method itself should be fast and cheap enough so that a lot of data can be collected in a reasonable amount of time. NanoFASE is  in a good position to do this, because of its focus on fate and because of the many international collaborators.

For  instance,  the Swedish  Agricultural  University (Uppsala)  is  collaborating  with  McGill  University (Montreal, Canada [emphasis mine]), an advisory partner to NanoFASE, in developing the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] protocol for column tests (OECD test nr 312:  “Leaching in soil columns”). The effort is led by Yasir Sultan from Environment Canada and by Karlheinz Weinfurtner from the Frauenhofer institute in Germany. Initial results show the transport of nanomaterials in soil columns to be very limited.

The OECD protocol therefore does not often lead to measurable breakthrough curves that can be modelled to provide information about  nanomaterial  mobility  in  soils  and  most  likely  requires adaptations  to  account  for  the  relatively  low mobility  of  typical pristine nanomaterials.

OECD 312 prescribes to use 40 cm columns, which is most likely too long to show a breakthrough in the case of nanoparticles. Testing in NanoFASE will therefore focus on working with shorter columns and also investigating the effect of the flow speed.

The progress and the results of this action will be reported on our website (

ENM [engineered nanomaterial] Transformation in and Release from Managed Waste Streams (WP5): The NanoFASE pilot Wastewater Treatment Plant is up and running and producing sludge – soon we’ll be dosing with nanoparticles to test “real world” aging.

Now, wastewater,

ENM [engineered nanomaterial] Transformation in and Release from Managed Waste Streams (WP5): The NanoFASE pilot Wastewater Treatment Plant is up and running and producing sludge – soon we’ll be dosing with nanoparticles to test “real world” aging.

WP5 led by Ralf Kaegi of EAWAG [Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology] (Switzerland) will establish transformation and release rates of ENM during their passage through different reactors. We are focusing on wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), solid waste and dedicated sewage sludge incinerators as well as landfills (see figure below). Additionally, lab-scale experiments using pristine and well characterized materials, representing the realistic fate relevant forms at each stage, will allow us to obtain a mechanistic understanding of the transformation processes in waste treatment reactors. Our experimental results will feed directly into the development of a mathematical model describing the transformation and transfer of ENMs through the investigated reactors.

I’m including this since I’ve been following the ‘silver nanoparticle story’ for some time,

NanoMILE publication update: NanoMILE on the air and on the cover

Dramatic  differences  in  behavior  of  nano-silver during  the  initial  wash  cycle  and  for  its  further dissolution/transformation potential over time depending on detergent composition and form.

In an effort to better relate nanomaterial aging procedures to those which they are most likely to undergo during the life cycle of nano-enhanced products, in this paper we describe the various transformations which are possible when exposing Ag engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) to a suite of commercially available washing detergents (Figure 1). While Ag ENP transformation and washing of textiles has received considerable attention in recent years, our study is novel in that we (1) used several commercially available detergents allowing us to estimate the various changes possible in individual homes and commercial washing settings; (2) we have continued  method  development  of  state  of  the  art nanometrology techniques, including single particle ICP-MS, for the detection and characterization of ENPs in complex media; and (3) we were able to provide novel additions to the knowledge base of the environmental nanotechnology research community both in terms of the analytical methods (e.g. the first time ENP aggregates have been definitively analyzed via single particle ICP-MS) and broadening the scope of “real world” conditions that should be considered when understanding AgENP through their life cycle.

Our findings, which were recently published in Environmental Science and Toxicology (2015, 49: 9665), indicate that the washing detergent chemistry causes dramatic differences in ENP behavior during the initial wash cycle and has ramifications for the dissolution/transformation potential of the Ag ENPs over time (see Figure 2). The use of silver as an  antimicrobial  treatment  in  textiles  continues  to garner  considerable  attention.  Last  year  we  published  a manuscript in ACS Nano that considered how various silver treatments to textiles (conventional and nano) both release  nano-sized  material  after  the  wash  cycle  with  similar chemical  characteristics.  That  study  essentially conveyed that multiple silver treatments would become more similar through the product life cycle. Our newest  work expands this by investigating one silver ENP under various washing conditions thereby creating more varied silver products as an end result.

Fascinating stuff if you’ve been following the issues around nanotechnology and safety.

Towards the end of the newsletter on pp. 46-48, they list opportunities for partnerships, collaboration, and research posts and they list websites where you can check out job opportunities. Good Luck!

Less pollution from ships with nanofilter

04.05.16 - Cargo ships are among the leading sources of pollution on the planet. Starting in 2020, however, stricter sulfur emission standards will take effect. A low-cost solution for reaching the new targets may come from an EPFL start-up, which is developing a nanostructured filter for use in a ship’s exhaust stacks. Courtesy EPFL

04.05.16 – Cargo ships are among the leading sources of pollution on the planet. Starting in 2020, however, stricter sulfur emission standards will take effect. A low-cost solution for reaching the new targets may come from an EPFL start-up, which is developing a nanostructured filter for use in a ship’s exhaust stacks. Copyright Alain Herzog Courtesy EPFL

A May 4, 2016 news item on Nanowerk describes a marine initiative from the École Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland,

Around 55,000 cargo ships ply the oceans every day, powered by a fuel that is dirtier than diesel. And owing to lax standards, maritime transport has emerged as one of the leading emitters – alongside air transport – of nitrogen oxide and sulfur. But the International Maritime Organization has enacted tighter emission limits, with new standards set to take effect in 2020. In response, an EPFL start-up is developing a low-cost and eco-friendly solution: a filter that can be installed in the ships’ exhaust stacks. The start-up, Daphne Technology, could do well on this massive market.

Given that no oceans or seas border Switzerland, it’s a rather interesting initiative on their part. Here’s more from a May 4, 2015 EPFL press release, which originated the news item,

Lowering sulfur emissions to below 1%

Under laboratory conditions, the nanostructured filter is able to cut sulfur emissions to below 1% and nitrogen oxide emissions to 15% of the current standards. This is a major improvement, seeing as the new standards will require an approximately 14% reduction in sulfur emissions.

Manufacturing the filters is similar to manufacturing solar cells. A thin metal plate – titanium in this case – is nanostructured in order to increase its surface area, and a number of substances are deposited in extremely thin layers. The plates are then placed vertically and evenly spaced, creating channels through which the toxic gases travel. The gases are captured by the nanostructured surfaces. This approach is considered eco-friendly because the substances in the filter are designed to be recycled. And the exhaust gas itself becomes inert and could be used in a variety of products, such as fertilizer.

The main challenges now are to figure out a way to make these filters on large surfaces, and to bring down the cost. It was at EPFL’s Swiss Plasma Center that researcher Mario Michan found a machine that he could modify to meet his needs: it uses plasma to deposit thin layers of substances. The next step is to produce a prototype that can be tested under real-world conditions.

Michan came up with his solution for toxic gas emissions after he worked on merchant ships while completing his Master’s degree in microengineering. It took several years, some techniques he picked up in the various labs in which he worked, and a few patents for Michan to make headway on his project. It was while he was working in another field at CERN and observing the technologies used to coat the inside of particle accelerators that he discovered a process needed for his original concept. An EPFL patent tying together the various aspects of the technology and several manufacturing secrets should be filed this year.

According to the European Environment Agency, merchant ships give off 204 times more sulfur than the billion cars on the roads worldwide. Michan estimates that his nanostructured filters, if they were used by all cargo ships, would reduce these emissions to around twice the level given off by all cars, and the ships would not need to switch to another fuel. Other solutions exist, but his market research showed that they were all lacking in some way: “Marine diesel fuel is cleaner but much more expensive and would drive up fuel costs by 50% according to ship owners. And the other technologies that have been proposed cannot be used on boats or they only cut down on sulfur emissions without addressing the problem of nitrogen oxide.”

The Daphne Technology website is here.

Identifying minute amounts of nanomaterial in environmental samples

It’s been a while since I’ve had a story from one of Germany’s Franhaufer Institutes. Their stories are usually focused on research that’s about to commercialized but that’s not the case this time according to an April 28, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

It is still unclear what the impact is on humans, animals and plants of synthetic nanomaterials released into the environment or used in products. It’s very difficult to detect these nanomaterials in the environment since the concentrations are so low and the particles so small. Now the partners in the NanoUmwelt project have developed a method that is capable of identifying even minute amounts of nanomaterials in environmental samples.

An April 28, 2016 Fraunhofer Institute press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the technology and about the NanoUmwelt project along with a touch of whimsy,

Tiny dwarves keep our mattresses clean, repair damage to our teeth, stop eggs sticking to our pans, and extend the shelf life of our food. We are talking about nanomaterials – “nano” comes from the Greek word for “dwarf”. These particles are just a few billionths of a meter small, and they are used in a wide range of consumer products. However, up to now the impact of these materials on the environment has been largely unknown, and information is lacking on the concentrations and forms in which they are present there. “It’s true that many laboratory studies have examined the effect of nanomaterials on human and animal cells. To date, though, it hasn’t been possible to detect very small amounts in environmental samples,” says Dr. Yvonne Kohl from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT in Sulzbach.

A millionth of a milligram per liter 

That is precisely the objective of the NanoUmwelt project. The interdisciplinary project team is made up of eco- and human toxicologists, physicists, chemists and biologists, and they have just managed to take their first major step forward in achieving their goal: they have developed a method for testing a variety of environmental samples such as river water, animal tissue, or human urine and blood that can detect nanomaterials at a concentration level of nanogram per liter (ppb – parts per billion). That is equivalent to half a sugar cube in the volume of water contained in 1,000 competition swimming pools. Using the new method, it is now possible to detect not just large amounts of nanomaterials in clear fluids, as was previously the case, but also very few particles in complex substance mixtures such as human blood or soil samples. The approach is based on field-flow fractionation (FFF), which can be used to separate complex heterogeneous mixtures of fluids and particles into their component parts – while simultaneously sorting the key components by size. This is achieved by the combination of a controlled flow of fluid and a physical separation field, which acts perpendicularly on the flowing suspension.

For the detection process to work, environmental samples have to be appropriately processed. The team from Fraunhofer IBMT’s Bioprocessing & Bioanalytics Department prepared river water, human urine, and fish tissue to be fit for the FFF device. “We prepare the samples with special enzymes. In this process, we have to make sure that the nanomaterials are not destroyed or changed. This allows us to detect the real amounts and forms of the nanomaterials in the environment,” explains Kohl. The scientists have special expertise when it comes to providing, processing and storing human tissue samples. Fraunhofer IBMT has been running the “German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB) – Human Samples”since January 2012 on behalf of Germany’s Environment Agency (UBA). Each year the research institute collects blood and urine samples from 120 volunteers in four cities in Germany. Individual samples are a valuable tool for mapping the trends over time of human exposure to pollutants. ”In addition, blood and urine samples have been donated for the NanoUmwelt project and put into cryostorage at Fraunhofer IBMT. We used these samples to develop our new detection method,” says Dr. Dominik Lermen, manager of the working group on Biomonitoring & Cryobanks at Fraunhofer IBMT. After approval by the UBA, some of the human samples in the ESB archive may also be examined using the new method.

Developing new cell culture models

Nanomaterials end up in the environment via different pathways, inter alia the sewage system. Human beings and animals presumably absorb them through biological barriers such as the lung or intestine. The project team is simulating these processes in petri dishes in order to understand how nanomaterials are transported across these barriers. “It’s a very complex process involving an extremely wide range of cells and layers of tissue,” explains Kohl. The researchers replicate the processes in a way as realistic as possible. They do this by, for instance, measuring the electrical flows within the barriers to determine the functionality of these barriers – or by simulating lung-air interaction using clouds of artificial fog. In the first phase of the NanoUmwelt project, the IBMT team succeeded in developing several cell culture models for the transport of nanomaterials across biological barriers. IBMT worked together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, which used pluripotent stem cells to develop a model for investigating cardiotoxicity. Empa, the Swiss partner in the project, delivered a placental barrier model for studying the transport of nanomaterials between mother and child.

Next, the partners want to use their method to measure the concentrations of nanoparticles in a wide variety of environmental samples. They will then analyze the results obtained so as to be in a better position to assess the behavior of nanomaterials in the environment and their potential danger for humans, animals, and the environment. “Our next goal is to detect particles in even smaller quantities,” says Kohl. To achieve this, the scientists are planning to use special filters to remove distracting elements from the environmental samples, and they are looking forward to develop new processing techniques.
NanoUmwelt – the objective

The NanoUmwelt research project was launched in October 2014 and will last for 36 months. Its objective is to develop methods for detecting minute amounts of nanomaterials in environmental samples. Using this information, the project partners will assess the effect of nanomaterials on humans, animals, and the environment. They are focusing on commercially significant, slowly degradable, metallic (silver, titanium dioxide), carbonic (carbon nanotubes) and polymer-based (polystyrene) nanomaterials.

NanoUmwelt – the partners

The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) is providing the NanoUmwelt project with 1.8 million euros of funding as part of its NanoCare program. Led by Postnova Analytics GmbH, ten further partners are collaborating together on the project. Besides the Fraunhofer Institutes for Biomedical Engineering IBMT and for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, these partners include Germany’s Environment Agency, Empa (the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology), PlasmaChem GmbH, Senova GmbH (biological sciences and engineering), fzmb GmbH (Research Centre of Medical Technology and Biotechnology), the universities of Trier and Frankfurt, and the Rhine Water Control Station in Worms.

How small is nano?

A nanometer (nm) is a billionth of a meter. To put this into context: the size of a single nanoparticle relative to a football is the same as that of a football relative to the earth. In the main, nanoscopic particles are not new materials. It’s simply that the increased overall surface area of these tiny particles gives them new functionalities as against larger particles of the same material.

The German Environmental Specimen Bank  

The German Environmental Specimen Bank (ESB) provides the country’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) with a scientific basis both for adopting appropriate measures concerning environment and nature conservation and for monitoring the success of those measures. The human samples collected by the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT on behalf of Germany’s Environment Agency (UBA) give an overview of human exposure to environmental pollutants.

Assuming I’ve understood this correctly, the NanoUmwelt project will be ending in 2017 (36 months in total) and the researchers have expended 1/2 of the time (18 months) allotted to developing a technique for measuring nanomaterials of heretofore unheard of quantities in environmental samples. With that done, researchers are now going to use the technique with human samples over the next 18 months.

Harmonized nano terminology for environmental health and safety

According to Lynn Bergeson’s April 11, 2016 posting on Nanotechnology Now, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published a document about harmonizing terminology for environmental health and safety of nanomaterials,

The European Commission (EC) Joint Research Center (JRC) recently published a report entitled NANoREG harmonised terminology for environmental health and safety assessment of nanomaterials, developed within the NANoREG project: “A common European approach to the regulatory testing of nanomaterials.”

The NANoREG harmonised terminology for environmental health and safety assessment of nanomaterials (PDF)  has an unexpected description for itself on p. 8 (Note: A link has been removed),

Consistent  use  of  terminology  is  important  in  any  field  of  science  and  technology  to ensure  common  understanding  of  concepts  and  tools among  experts  and  different stakeholders, such as regulatory authorities, industry and consumers. Several  terms  in  the  field of  environmental  health  and  safety  (EHS)  assessment of nanomaterials  (hereinafter  NMs) have  been  indeed  defined  or  used  by  the  scientific community and various organisations, including   international   bodies,   European authorities, and industry associations.

This  is true  for multidisciplinary  projects  such  as  NANoREG, which  aims  at supporting regulatory  authorities, and  industry,  in  dealing  with EHS issues  of  manufactured NMs (‘nanoEHS’) (, Terminology  thus  plays  an  important  role  in  NANoREG’s internal  process  of producing diverse types of output with regulatory relevance (e.g. physicochemical characterisation and test protocols, grouping and read-across approaches, exposure models, a framework for  safety  assessment  of NMs,  etc.). The  process  takes  place  in a  collaborative  effort across severalNANoREG work packages or tasks,  involvingquite a  few partners. Moreover,  the  different  types  of NANoREG output (‘deliverables’) are  addressed  to  a large  audience  of  scientists,  industry  and  regulatory  bodies,  extending beyond  Europe. Hence, a coordinated initiative has been undertaken by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) to harmonise the use of specific wording within NANoREG.

The objective of this JRC report is to disseminate the harmonised terminology that has been developed and used with in NANoREG. This collection of key terms has been agreed upon by all  project  partners and adopted  in  their  activities  and  related  documents, as recommended by the NANoREG internal Guidance Document.

Accordingly,  Section  2  of  the  report  illustrates  the  methodology  used  i)  to  select  key terms  that  form  the  ‘NANoREG  Terminology’,  ii)  to  develop  harmonised  ‘NANoREG Definitions’, and iii) it also explains the thinking that led to the choices made in drafting a  definition.  In  Section  3,  those  definitions, adopted  by  the  project  Consortium,  are reported  in  a  table  format  and  constitute  the  ‘NANoREG  Harmonised  Terminology’. Section 4 summarises the existing literature definitions that have been used as starting point to elaborate, for each key term, a NANoREG Definition. It also shortly discusses the reason(s) behind the choices that have been made in drafting a definition.

2. Methodology

The NANoREG Harmonised Terminology illustrated in this report is not a ‘dictionary’ [emphasis mine] that collects a long list of well-known, well-defined scientific and/or regulatory terms relevant to  the  field  of nanoEHS.  Rather,  the  NANoREG Harmonised  Terminology  focuses  on  a relatively short list of key terms that may be interpreted in various ways, depending on where the reader is located on the globe or on the reader’s scientific area of expertise. Moreover,  it  focuses  on  few  terms  that  are  specifically relevant  in  a  REACH [Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, & Restriction of Chemicals]  context, which represents the regulatory framework of reference for NANoREG.

This is having it both ways. As I read it, what they’re saying is this: ‘Our document is not a dictionary but here are the definitions we’re using and you can use them that way if you like’.

You can find a link to the ‘harmonisation’ document and one other related document on this page.

The Canadian nano scene as seen by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

I’ve grumbled more than once or twice about the seemingly secret society that is Canada’s nanotechnology effort (especially health, safety, and environment issues) and the fact that I get most my information from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) documents. That said, thank you to Lynne Bergeson’s April 8, 2016 post on Nanotechnology Now for directions to the latest OECD nano document,

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently posted a March 29, 2016, report entitled Developments in Delegations on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials — Tour de Table. … The report compiles information, provided by Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) participating delegations, before and after the November 2015 WPMN meeting, on current developments on the safety of manufactured nanomaterials.

It’s an international roundup that includes: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, U.S., and the European Commission (EC), as well as the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC) and International Council on Animal Protection in OECD Programs (ICAPO).

As usual, I’m focusing on Canada. From the DEVELOPMENTS IN DELEGATIONS ON THE SAFETY OF MANUFACTURED NANOMATERIALS – TOUR DE TABLE Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 67,

National  developments  on  human  health  and  environmental  safety  including  recommendations, definitions, or discussions related to adapting or applying existing regulatory systems or the drafting of new laws/ regulations/amendments/guidance materials A consultation document on a Proposed Approach to Address Nanoscale Forms of Substances on the Domestic  Substances  List was  published  with  a  public  comment  period  ending on  May  17,  2015. The proposed approach outlines the Government’s plan to address nanomaterials considered in commerce in Canada (on  Canada’s  public inventory).  The  proposal is a stepwise  approach to  acquire  and  evaluate information,  followed  by  any  necessary  action. A  follow-up  stakeholder  workshop  is  being  planned  to discuss  next  steps  and  possible  approaches  to prioritize  future  activities. The  consultation document  is available at:

A mandatory information gathering survey was published on July 25, 2015. The purpose of the survey is to collect information to determine the commercialstatus of certain nanomaterials in Canada. The survey targets  206  substances  considered  to  be  potentially  in commerce  at  the  nanoscale. The  list  of  206 substances was developed using outcomes from the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC)  Nanotechnology  Initiative  to  identify nanomaterial  types. These  nanomaterial  types  were  cross-referenced  with  the Domestic  Substances  List to  develop  a  preliminary  list  of  substances  which are potentially intentionally manufactured at the nanoscale. The focus of the survey aligns with the Proposed Approach to  Address  Nanoscale  Forms  of  Substances  on  the Domestic  Substances  List (see  above)  and certain  types  of  nanomaterials  were  excluded  during the  development  of  the  list  of  substances. The information  being  requested  by  the  survey  includes substance  identification,  volumes,  and  uses.  This information will feed into the Government’s proposed approach to address nanomaterials on the Domestic Substances List. Available at:

Information on:

a.risk  assessment  decisions, including  the  type  of:  (a)  nanomaterials  assessed; (b) testing recommended; and (c) outcomes of the assessment;

Four substances were notified to the program since the WPMN14 – three surface modified substances and  one  inorganic  substance.  No  actions,  including  additional  data requests,  were  taken  due  to  low expected  exposures  in  accordance  with  the New  Substances  Notifications  Regulations  (Chemicals and Polymers) (NSNR) for two of the substances.  Two of the substances notified were subject to a Significant New Activity Notice. A Significant New Activity notice is an information gathering tool used to require submission  of  additional  information  if  it  is suspected  that  a  significant  new  activity  may  result in  the substance becoming toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

b.Proposals, or modifications to previous regulatory decisions

As  part  of  the  Government’s  Chemicals  Management Plan,  a  review  is  being  undertaken  for  all substances  which  have  been  controlled through  Significant  New  Activity  (SNAc)  notices (see  above).  As part  of  this  activity,  the  Government  is  reviewing past  nanomaterials  SNAc  notices  to  see  if  new information  is  available  to  refine  the  scope  and information  requirements.    As  a  result  of  this  review, 9 SNAc  notices  previously  in  place  for  nanomaterials have  been  rescinded.    This  work  is  ongoing,  and  a complete review of all nanomaterial SNAcs is currently planned to be completed in 2016.

Information related to good practice documents

The Canada-led,  ISO  standards project, ISO/DTR  19716 Nanotechnologies — Characterization  of cellulose  nanocrystals, [emphasis mine] initiated  in  April 2014, is  now at Committee  Draft  (CD)  3-month  ISO ballot, closing    Aug 31, 2015. Ballot comments will be addressed during JWG2 Measurement and Characterization working  group meetings  at  the 18th Plenary  of  ISO/TC229, Nanotechnologies,  being held in Edmonton, Alberta, Sep. 28 – Oct. 2, 2015.

Research   programmes   or   strategies   designed   to  address   human   health   and/   or environmental safety aspects of nanomaterials

Scientific research

Environment Canada continues to support various academic and departmental research projects. This research has to date included studying fate and effects of nanomaterials in the aquatic, sediment, soil, and air  compartments. Funding  in  fiscal  2015-16  continues  to  support  such  projects,  including  sub-surface transportation, determining key physical-chemical parameters to predict ecotoxicity, and impacts of nano-silver [silver nanoparticles]  addition  to  a  whole  lake  ecosystem [Experimental Lakes Area?]. Environment  Canada  has  also  partnered  with  the National Research  Council  of  Canada  recently  to  initiate  a project  on  the  development  of  test  methods  to identify surfaces of nanomaterials for the purposes of regulatory identification and to support risk assessments. In addition,  Environment  Canada  is  working  with  academic laboratories in  Canada  and  Germany  to  prepare guidance to support testing of nanoparticles using the OECD Test Guideline for soil column leaching.

Health  Canada  continues  its  research  efforts  to  investigate  the  effects  of  surface-modified  silica nanoparticles. The   aims   of   these   projects   are  to:   (1) study the importance of size and surface functionalization;  and  (2)  provide a genotoxic profile and  to  identify  mechanistic  relationships  of  particle properties  to  elicited  toxic  responses.  A manuscript reporting  the in  vitro genotoxic,  cytotoxic and transcriptomic  responses  following  exposure  to  silica  nanoparticles  has  recently  been  submitted to  a  peer reviewed journal and is currently undergoing review. Additional manuscripts reporting the toxicity results obtained to date are in preparation.

Information on public/stakeholder consultations;

A consultation document on a Proposed Approach to Address Nanoscale Forms of Substances on the Domestic  Substances  List was  published  with a  public  comment  period ending  on May  17,  2015  (see Question  1).  Comments  were  received  from approximately  20  stakeholders  representing  industry and industry  associations,  as  well  as  non-governmental  organizations. These  comments  will  inform  decision making to address nanomaterials in commerce in Canada.

Information on research or strategies on life cycle aspects of nanomaterials

Canada, along with Government agencies in the United States, Non-Governmental Organizations and Industry,  is  engaged  in  a  project  to  look  at releases  of  nanomaterials  from  industrial  consumer  matrices (e.g., coatings). The objectives of the NanoRelease Consumer Products project are to develop protocols or
methods (validated  through  interlaboratory  testing) to  measure  releases  of  nanomaterials  from  solid matrices as a result of expected uses along the material life cycle for consumer products that contain the nanomaterials. The  project  is  currently  in  the  advanced  stages  of Phase  3  (Interlaboratory  Studies).  The objectives of Phase 3 of the project are to develop robust methods for producing and collecting samples of CNT-epoxy  and  CNT-rubber  materials  under  abrasion  and  weathering scenarios,  and  to  detect  and quantify, to the extent possible, CNT release fractions. Selected laboratories in the US, Canada, Korea and the European Community are finalising the generation and analysis of sanding and weathering samples and the    results    are    being    collected    in    a   data    hub    for    further    interpretation    and    analysis.

Additional details about the project can be found at the project website:

Under the OECD Working Party on Resource Productivity and Waste (WPRPW), the expert group on waste containing nanomaterials has developed four reflection papers on the fate of nanomaterials in waste treatment  operations.  Canada  prepared the  paper  on  the  fate  of  nanomaterials in  landfills;  Switzerland on the  recycling  of  waste  containing  nanomaterials;  Germany  on  the  incineration  of  waste  containing nanomaterials;  and  France  on  nanomaterials  in wastewater  treatment.  The  purpose  of  these  papers is to provide  an  overview  of  the  existing  knowledge  on the  behaviour  of  nanomaterials  during  disposal operations and identify the information gaps. At the fourth meeting of the WPRPW that took place on 12-14 November 2013, three of the four reflection papers were considered by members. Canada’s paper was presented and discussed at the fifth meeting of the WPRPRW that took place on 8-10 December 2014. The four  papers  were  declassified  by  EPOC  in  June  2015, and  an  introductory  chapter  was  prepared  to  draw these  papers  together. The introductory  chapter  and accompanying  papers  will  be  published in  Fall  2015. At  the sixth  meeting  of  the  WPRPW  in  June – July  2015,  the  Secretariat  presented  a  proposal  for an information-sharing  platform  that  would  allow  delegates  to  share research  and  documents  related  to nanomaterials. During a trial phase, delegates will be asked to use the platform and provide feedback on its use at the next meeting of the WPRPW in December 2015. This information-sharing platform will also be accessible to delegates of the WPMN.

Information related to exposure measurement and exposure mitigation.

Canada and the Netherlands are co-leading a project on metal impurities in carbon nanotubes. A final version  of  the  report  is  expected  to  be ready for WPMN16. All  research has  been completed (e.g. all components are published or in press and there was a presentation by Pat Rasmussen to SG-08 at the Face-to-Face Meeting in Seoul June 2015). The first draft will be submitted to the SG-08 secretariat in autumn 2015. Revisions  will  be  based  on  early  feedback  from  SG-08  participants.  The  next  steps  depend  on  this feedback and amount of revision required.

Information on past, current or future activities on nanotechnologies that are being done in co-operation with non-OECD countries.

A webinar between ECHA [European Chemicals Agency], the US EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and Canada was hosted by Canada on April 16, 2015. These are  regularly  scheduled  trilateral  discussions  to keep  each  other  informed  of  activities  in  respective jurisdictions.

In  March 2015, Health  Canada  hosted  3  nanotechnology knowledge  transfer sessions  targeting Canadian  government  research  and  regulatory  communities  working  in  nanotechnology.  These  sessions were  an  opportunity  to  share  information  and perspectives  on  the  current  state  of  science supporting  the regulatory  oversight  of  nanomaterials with  Government.  Presenters  provided  detailed  outputs  from  the OECD WPMN including: updates on OECD test methods and guidance documents; overviews of physical-chemical properties, as well as their relevance to toxicological testing and risk assessment; ecotoxicity and fate   test   methods;   human   health   risk   assessment   and   alternative   testing   strategies;   and exposure measurement  and  mitigation.  Guest  speakers  included  Dr  Richard  C.  Pleus  Managing  Director  and  Director of Intertox, Inc and Dr. Vladimir Murashov Special Assistant on Nanotechnology to the Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

On   March   4-5, 2015, Industry   Canada   and   NanoCanada co-sponsored  “Commercializing Nanotechnology  in  Canada”,  a  national  workshop  that brought  together  representatives  from  industry, academia and government to better align Canada’s efforts in nanotechnology.  This workshop was the first of  its  kind  in  Canada. It  also  marked  the  official  launch  of  NanoCanada (,  a national  initiative  that  is  bringing  together stakeholders  from  across  Canada  to  bridge  the  innovation  gap and stimulates emerging technology solutions.

It’s nice to get an update about what’s going on. Despite the fact this report was published in 2016 the future tense is used in many of the verbs depicting actions long since accomplished. Maybe this was a cut-and-paste job?

Moving on, I note the mention of the Canada-led,  ISO  standards project, ISO/DTR  19716 Nanotechnologies — Characterization  of cellulose  nanocrystals (CNC). For those not familiar with CNC, the Canadian government has invested hugely in this material derived mainly from trees, in Canada. Other countries and jurisdictions have researched nanocellulose derived from carrots, bananas, pineapples, etc.

Finally, it was interesting to find out about the existence of  NanoCanada. In looking up the Contact Us page, I noticed Marie D’Iorio’s name. D’Iorio, as far as I’m aware, is still the Executive Director for Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) or here (one of the National Research Council of Canada’s institutes). I have tried many times to interview someone from the NINT (Nils Petersen, the first NINT ED and Martha Piper, a member of the advisory board) and more recently D’Iorio herself only to be be met with a resounding silence. However, there’s a new government in place, so I will try again to find out more about the NINT, and, this time, NanoCanada.

Listening to bacteria for superior organic nanowires

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU; US) claim to have  discovered organic nanowires that are superior to the engineered kind according to a March 24, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

A microbial protein fiber discovered by a Michigan State University scientist transports charges at rates high enough to be applied in humanmade nanotechnologies.

The discovery, featured in the current issue of Scientific Reports, describes the high-speed protein fiber produced by uranium-reducing Geobacter bacteria. The fibers are hair-like protein filaments called “pili” that have the unique property of transporting charges at speeds of 1 billion electrons per second.

A March 24, 2016 MSU news release, which originated the news item, provides more information,

“This microbial nanowire is made of but a single peptide subunit,” said Gemma Reguera, lead author and MSU microbiologist. “Being made of protein, these organic nanowires are biodegradable and biocompatible. This discovery thus opens many applications in nanoelectronics such as the development of medical sensors and electronic devices that can be interfaced with human tissues.”

Since existing nanotechnologies incorporate exotic metals into their designs, the cost of organic nanowires is much more cost effective as well, she added.

How the nanowires function in nature is comparable to breathing. Bacterial cells, like humans, have to breathe. The process of respiration involves moving electrons out of an organism. Geobacter bacteria use the protein nanowires to bind and breathe metal-containing minerals such as iron oxides and soluble toxic metals such as uranium. The toxins are mineralized on the nanowires’ surface, preventing the metals from permeating the cell.

Reguera’s team purified their protein fibers, which are about 2 nanometers in diameter. Using the same toolset of nanotechnologists, the scientists were able to measure the high velocities at which the proteins were passing electrons.

“They are like power lines at the nanoscale,” Reguera said. “This also is the first study to show the ability of electrons to travel such long distances — more than a 1,000 times what’s been previously proven — along proteins.”

The researchers also identified metal traps on the surface of the protein nanowires that bind uranium with great affinity and could potentially trap other metals. These findings could provide the basis for systems that integrate protein nanowires to mine gold and other precious metals, scrubbers that can be deployed to immobilize uranium at remediation sites and more.

Reguera’s nanowires also can be modified to seek out other materials in which to help them breathe.

“The Geobacter cells are making these protein fibers naturally to breathe certain metals. We can use genetic engineering to tune the electronic and biochemical properties of the nanowires and enable new functionalities. We also can mimic the natural manufacturing process in the lab to mass-produce them in inexpensive and environmentally friendly processes,” Reguera said. “This contrasts dramatically with the manufacturing of humanmade inorganic nanowires, which involve high temperatures, toxic solvents, vacuums and specialized equipment.”

This discovery came from truly listening to bacteria, Reguera said.

“The protein is getting the credit, but we can’t forget to thank the bacteria that invented this,” she said. “It’s always wise to go back and ask bacteria what else they can teach us. In a way, we are eavesdropping on microbial conversations. It’s like listening to our elders, learning from their wisdom and taking it further.”

Asking what else bacteria can teach us? That’s a lovely thought and  different from the still common ‘let’s wipe them all out’ approach to bacteria. It suggests scientific research that is more amenable to sharing the planet with all forms of life.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Thermally activated charge transport in microbial protein nanowires by Sanela Lampa-Pastirk, Joshua P. Veazey, Kathleen A. Walsh, Gustavo T. Feliciano, Rebecca J. Steidl, Stuart H. Tessmer, & Gemma Reguera. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 23517 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep23517 Published online: 24 March 2016

This paper is open access.

Short term exposure to engineered nanoparticles used for semiconductors not too risky?

Short term exposure means anywhere from 30 minutes to 48 hours according to the news release and the concentration is much higher than would be expected in current real life conditions. Still, this research from the University of Arizona and collaborators represents an addition to the data about engineered nanoparticles (ENP) and their possible impact on health and safety. From a Feb. 22, 2016 news item on,

Short-term exposure to engineered nanoparticles used in semiconductor manufacturing poses little risk to people or the environment, according to a widely read research paper from a University of Arizona-led research team.

Co-authored by 27 researchers from eight U.S. universities, the article, “Physical, chemical and in vitro toxicological characterization of nanoparticles in chemical mechanical planarization suspensions used in the semiconductor industry: towards environmental health and safety assessments,” was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science Nano in May 2015. The paper, which calls for further analysis of potential toxicity for longer exposure periods, was one of the journal’s 10 most downloaded papers in 2015.

A Feb. 17, 2016 University of Arizona news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“This study is extremely relevant both for industry and for the public,” said Reyes Sierra, lead researcher of the study and professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Arizona.

Small Wonder

Engineered nanoparticles are used to make semiconductors, solar panels, satellites, food packaging, food additives, batteries, baseball bats, cosmetics, sunscreen and countless other products. They also hold great promise for biomedical applications, such as cancer drug delivery systems.

Designing and studying nano-scale materials is no small feat. Most university researchers produce them in the laboratory to approximate those used in industry. But for this study, Cabot Microelectronics provided slurries of engineered nanoparticles to the researchers.

“Minus a few proprietary ingredients, our slurries were exactly the same as those used by companies like Intel and IBM,” Sierra said. Both companies collaborated on the study.

The engineers analyzed the physical, chemical and biological attributes of four metal oxide nanomaterials — ceria, alumina, and two forms of silica — commonly used in chemical mechanical planarization slurries for making semiconductors.

Clean Manufacturing

Chemical mechanical planarization is the process used to etch and polish silicon wafers to be smooth and flat so the hundreds of silicon chips attached to their surfaces will produce properly functioning circuits. Even the most infinitesimal scratch on a wafer can wreak havoc on the circuitry.

When their work is done, engineered nanoparticles are released to wastewater treatment facilities. Engineered nanoparticles are not regulated, and their prevalence in the environment is poorly understood [emphasis mine].

Researchers at the UA and around the world are studying the potential effects of these tiny and complex materials on human health and the environment.

“One of the few things we know for sure about engineered nanoparticles is that they behave very differently than other materials,” Sierra said. “For example, they have much greater surface area relative to their volume, which can make them more reactive. We don’t know whether this greater reactivity translates to enhanced toxicity.”

The researchers exposed the four nanoparticles, suspended in separate slurries, to adenocarcinoma human alveolar basal epithelial cells at doses up to 2,000 milligrams per liter for 24 to 38 hours, and to marine bacteria cells, Aliivibrio fischeri, up to 1,300 milligrams per liter for approximately 30 minutes.

These concentrations are much higher than would be expected in the environment, Sierra said.

Using a variety of techniques, including toxicity bioassays, electron microscopy, mass spectrometry and laser scattering, to measure such factors as particle size, surface area and particle composition, the researchers determined that all four nanoparticles posed low risk to the human and bacterial cells.

“These nanoparticles showed no adverse effects on the human cells or the bacteria, even at very high concentrations,” Sierra said. “The cells showed the very same behavior as cells that were not exposed to nanoparticles.”

The authors recommended further studies to characterize potential adverse effects at longer exposures and higher concentrations.

“Think of a fish in a stream where wastewater containing nanoparticles is discharged,” Sierra said. “Exposure to the nanoparticles could be for much longer.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Physical, chemical, and in vitro toxicological characterization of nanoparticles in chemical mechanical planarization suspensions used in the semiconductor industry: towards environmental health and safety assessments by David Speed, Paul Westerhoff, Reyes Sierra-Alvarez, Rockford Draper, Paul Pantano, Shyam Aravamudhan, Kai Loon Chen, Kiril Hristovski, Pierre Herckes, Xiangyu Bi, Yu Yang, Chao Zeng, Lila Otero-Gonzalez, Carole Mikoryak, Blake A. Wilson, Karshak Kosaraju, Mubin Tarannum, Steven Crawford, Peng Yi, Xitong Liu, S. V. Babu, Mansour Moinpour, James Ranville, Manuel Montano, Charlie Corredor, Jonathan Posner, and Farhang Shadman. Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2015,2, 227-244 DOI: 10.1039/C5EN00046G First published online 14 May 2015

This is open access but you may need to register before reading the paper.

The bit about nanoparticles’ “… prevalence in the environment is poorly understood …”and the focus of this research reminded me of an April 2014 announcement (my April 8, 2014 posting; scroll down about 40% of the way) regarding a new research network being hosted by Arizona State University, the LCnano network, which is part of the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials project being funded by the US National Science Foundation. The network’s (LCnano) director is Paul Westerhoff who is also one of this report’s authors.