Nanotechnology and the Environment

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Only calcium, magnesium, and silica are removed, leaving organic matter and salt. At best, 90 percent of low-quality water is recovered and recycled. Sadrzadeh and his colleagues hope to change this through the development of advanced membranes that are affordable and can capture the majority of contaminants. Although using a polymeric membrane keeps costs down, the nanomaterials embedded within it increase strength and functionality. As an added bonus, better filtration means less wear and tear on boilers and other machinery and improves the life cycle of the parts, which cuts back on waste, he explains.

It also reduces operational costs. Nanocomposite membranes are not yet used widely by water treatment companies, says Sadrzadeh. Scientists now know that nanoparticles are being released into the environment. Because they behave differently from their bulk parent material, toxicologists are racing to develop new ways to test for potentially toxic effects and to understand how nanoparticles disperse into and affect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Chris Metcalfe, a professor in the School of the Environment at Trent University, in Ontario, Canada, studies the potential for materials and chemicals to be toxic in the environment.

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These include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, cleaners, and now nanoparticles. Metcalfe says that studying nanoparticle toxicity has involved a steep learning curve. In one study, he and his students added 15 kilograms of silver nanoparticles into Lake in Ontario's Experimental Lakes Area an amount he says would yield concentrations in water about 10 times those likely to be expelled from a drinking-water treatment plant. Within a few weeks of the start of additions to the lake, they found that silver nanoparticles were widely distributed.

Environmental Nanotechnology Research Centers

They remained in their nano form as opposed to clumping together and could be found throughout the water column. The particles were ingested by aquatic organisms and appeared to bioaccumulate in animals further up the food chain. Environmental toxicologist Aaron Roberts investigates the impacts of potentially toxic substances in aquatic systems.

He is trying to understand the impacts of oil spills and mercury accumulation in fish. Roberts is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas, and his work on nanoparticles began a decade ago, when a colleague began using single-walled carbon nanotubes CNTs coated in phospholipids for biomedical purposes and asked Roberts to help identify potential toxicity. Shown here is a solar-powered system used to pump nano silver into Experimental Lake in Ontario, Canada.

Researchers found that the silver nanoparticles are ingested by aquatic organisms.

Environmental Nanotechnology, Monitoring and Management

Photograph: Chris Metcalfe. Single-walled carbon nanotubes, shown here, are coated in phospholipids and used in biomedicine. Roberts designed a lab experiment in which he exposed the zooplankton Daphnia magna , a microscopic crustacean, to the CNTs suspended in a water solution. Daphnia ingested the CNTs and used the phospholipid coating as a food source. They then excreted the now-lipidless CNTs into the water in a form prone to clumping together.

These aggregated chunks settled into the sediment as opposed to staying in the water column.

Nano and the Environment

Roberts has been working on nanoparticles ever since, and like Metcalfe, he says it has been a game of catch-up—being asked to test for potential toxic effects while simultaneously learning how to do it. Along with improved testing has come the awareness of potentially unknown complex environmental interactions by nanoparticles and the need to understand how these particles behave outside of laboratory experiments.

Roberts gives the example of nano TiO 2 , one of the most widely used forms of nanoparticles in commercial industry. Production in the United States is estimated to be 2. Along with colleague Moira McKee, in , she undertook an extensive review of the known impacts of silver and copper nanoparticles on soil communities.

These communities are composed of the plants, fungi, bacteria, insects, and earthworms that maintain the structural and chemical composition of the soil. Through her review, she observed not only the direct impacts of nanoparticles on soil organisms but also cascading effects that have the potential to change entire communities. Transmission electron microscopy image of silver nanoparticles formed from silver ions in solution with humic acid. The acid tends to coat the nanoparticles visible here as a pale cloud , keeping them in a colloidal suspension instead of clumping together.

Color added by the photographer for clarity. Treatment with coated layer double hydroxide clays decreases the toxicity of copper-contaminated water. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology — Photo-induced toxicity of titanium dioxide nanoparticles to Daphnia magna under natural sunlight.

Chemosphere — Impacts of metal-based engineered nanomaterials on soil communities. Environmental Science Nano 3: — Zhang W. Nanoscale iron particles for environmental remediation: An overview.

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  8. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 5: — Filser says that the same properties that make silver nanoparticles important antibacterial agents also make them deadly to microorganisms in the soil. Silver nanoparticles also kill more bacteria than they do fungi, shifting the nature of the soil community.


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    Applications of nanotechnology in the field of environment - IEEE Conference Publication

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