While there is currently no evidence that engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) pose a significant threat to the environment, many gaps in our knowledge remain with regard to ENM ecotoxicity. The lack of evidence should by no means be interpreted to imply that environmental damage cannot occur (read more: Nanotechnology and the environment – Hazard potentials and risks).
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have developed a dynamic multimedia fate and transport model (nanoFate; not to be confused with the European NanoFATE project that ran from 2010 to 2014) to predict the time-dependent accumulation of metallic engineered nanomaterials across environmental media.
Compared to previous ENM fate models such as MendNano and SimpleBox4Nano, nanoFate considers a wider range of ENM processes, including emissions to air, water (freshwater and marine), and soils (urban, agricultural, undeveloped) from their manufacturing, use, and disposal; advection in and out of main environmental compartments; rate-limited transport across compartments; resuspension to air and attachment to aerosols; transformation into other ENMs or compounds; in natural waters aggregation, sedimentation, dissolution, filtration, and sorption to suspended particles and the subsequent deposition to sediment.
Since some ENMs also dissolve over time, nanoFate accounts for long-term accumulation of both nanoparticles and dissolved metal ions. nanoFate is also designed to allow for the inclusion of other key transformations processes (e.g., oxidation, sulfidation, adsorption of natural organic matter, loss of the original coating) that alter their chemical properties and environmental behavior, though these are not yet sufficiently understood to incorporate into a mathematical model.
nanoFate has been presented in a recent paper in Environmental Science & Technology ("Assessing the Risk of Engineered Nanomaterials in the Environment: Development and Application of the nanoFate Model").
As the researchers write in their paper, nanoFate is unique because ofvironment
- the type and structural detail of compartments included;
- the inclusion of key fate processes, discussed above, that have not previously been considered collectively in one model; and
- the approach taken to calculate fate and transport rates in the face of limited data and mechanistic uncertainty.
In addition, because of the rapid progress being made in ENM production and applications, they explore a range of release scenarios and corresponding longterm [ENM] estimates.
nanoFate will be publically available and has been developed with extensibility to other environments, ENMs, and for additional processes.
"Assessing the Risk of Engineered Nanomaterials in the Environment: Development and Application of the nanoFate Model." Kendra L. Garner , Sangwon Suh, and Arturo A. Keller. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP, April 26, 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05279