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Tracking the environmental exposure of the emerging nanomaterial industry

Date: 31/8/2017

A new Horizon Magazine feature article discusses how tracking the environmental exposure of the emerging nanomaterial industry could prevent potentially harmful chemicals from polluting soil and water, and how NanoFASE, alongside other EU-funded projects, is working towards achieving these goals.

Safer sun cream, energy-storing plastics, non-stick surfaces, richer fertilisers and sweat-proof clothes – the evolution of nanotechnology has led to an abundance of new products. However, relatively little is known about what happens when these nanomaterials enter the environment.

NanoFASE coordinator Dr Claus Svendsen has stated that the main environmental concerns are understanding the effects of direct exposure of nanopesticides and nanofertilisers on plants and small organisms. He notes that current risk assessments primarily look at manufactured nanomaterials which often aren’t relevant from an environmental contamination point of view as it is rare that the nanomaterials end up in the environment in the exact form as the original product. This means that the hazard data used for their authorisation isn’t always relevant for understanding the environmental phase in their lifecycle.

The NanoFASE project is tracking the environmental fate of industrial nanomaterials from production to their final resting place. Their research will help safer product design and support future nanomaterial regulation. As well as testing nanomaterial deposits within soils, NanoFASE researchers have built and modified their own pilot plants (e.g. wastewater treatment plant, sewage sludge incinerator) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG).

Dr Svendsen states that currently, the amount of nanomaterials released is so low that environmental exposure is unlikely to be a concern. However, as nanomaterial use increases, more understanding is needed because knowing where particles end up, in what physical state and in what quantity will help prevent any potential risk down the line.

Source: Horizon Magazine

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Did you know?

MWCNT-7 is classified by IARC as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2B).