Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Environmental Fate and Effects of Engineered Nanomaterials

G.V. Lowry
Carnegie Mellon University, US

Keywords: nanotechnology, EHS, Environment, nanomaterial-biological-environmental interactions


Nanotechnology continually produces new materials with unique chemical and physical properties compared to larger sized materials having the same chemical composition. It is prudent to consider the potential environmental health and safety impacts of these novel materials before wide spread use in order to develop nanotechnology sustainably. Predicting the unique risks that nanomaterials may pose is challenging due to several factors including 1) inadequate characterization of sources of nanomaterials, 2) incomplete understanding of the nanomaterial properties and environmental factors controlling nanomaterial fate, exposure, and toxicity. I will present recent progress towards elucidating the fundamental nanomaterial-biological-environmental interactions that control a nanomaterial’s environmental fate and effects. Particular emphasis will be on identifying factors influencing physical, chemical and biological transformations, and the importance that environmental conditions and complex feedbacks have on nanomaterial fate and the severity and duration of environmental effects. Examples are drawn from recent studies using simple highly controlled laboratory studies to large scale mesocosms that represent nanomaterial behaviors in a highly complex and realistic emergent wetland environment. The latter provides the ability to assess ecosystem-level impacts resulting from accumulation of nanomaterials in this environment.