Framing and Assessing Environmental Risks of Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials are being increasingly produced and used across a myriad of applications while their novel properties are still in the midst of being designed and explored. Thus the full implications of introducing these materials into the environment cannot be understood, yet the need to assess potential risks is already upon us. This work discusses a comprehensive view of environmental impact with respect to material flows from across the value chain into all compartments of the environment, whereby interactions and potential hazardous effects become possible. A subset of this broad system is then chosen for evaluation; a model is derived to describe the fate of nanomaterials released to wastewater.
This analysis considers the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) as a complete mixed reactor aerobic secondary clarifier, and predicts whether nanomaterials will associate with effluent or sludge to project potential concentrations in each. The concentration of nanomaterials reaching a WWTP is estimated based on a linear weighting of total production, and the fate of nanomaterials within the WWTP is based on a characteristic inherent to the material, partition coefficient, and on design parameters of the WWTP, such as retention times and suspended solids concentration.
Due to the uncertainty inherent to this problem, a probabilistic approach is employed. Monte Carlo simulation is used, sampling from probability distributions assigned to each of the input parameters to calculate a distribution for the predicted concentrations in sludge and effluent. Input parameter distributions are estimated from values reported in the literature where possible. Where data do not yet exist, studies are carried out to enable parameter estimation. In particular, nanomaterial production is investigated to provide a basis to estimate the magnitude of potential exposure. Nanomaterial partitioning behavior is also studied in this work, through laboratory experiments for several types of nano-silver.
The results presented here illustrate the use of nanomaterial inventory data in predicting environmentally relevant concentrations. Estimates of effluent and sludge concentrations for nano-silver with four different types coatings suggest that these surface treatments affect the removal efficiency; the same nanomaterial with different coatings may have different environmental fates. Effluent concentration estimates for C60 and nano-TiO2 suggest that these nanomaterials could already be present at problematic concentrations at current levels of annual production.
Estimates of environmentally relevant concentrations may aid in interpretation of nanotoxicology studies. These relative estimates are also useful in that they may help inform future decisions regarding where to dedicate resources for future research. Beyond attempting to estimate environmental concentrations of nanomaterials, this type of streamlined model allows the consideration of scenarios, focusing on what happens as various input parameters change. Production quantity and the fraction of this quantity that is released to wastewater are found to greatly influence the model estimates for wastewater effluent concentrations; in the case of wastewater sludge concentrations, the model is sensitive to those parameters in addition to solids retention time.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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