Nanoplastics damage marine creatures’ natural defences, increasing lethal effects of POPs

Nanoplastic Ingestion Enhances Toxicity of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Monogonont Rotifer Brachionus koreanus via Multixenobiotic Resistance (MXR) Disruption

Nano-sized particles of plastic can be more damaging to marine species than larger sized microplastics, a new study shows.

Lab tests revealed that nanoplastics can damage cell membranes in tiny marine creatures called rotifers (Rotifera), disrupting their natural defences against toxicants.

The researchers found that rotifers that had been exposed to nanoparticles of polystyrene were significantly more susceptible to the lethal effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Reference.


Among the various materials found inside microplastic pollution, nanosized microplastics are of particular concern due to difficulties in quantification and detection; moreover, they are predicted to be abundant in aquatic environments with stronger toxicity than microsized microplastics. Here, we demonstrated a stronger accumulation of nanosized microbeads in the marine rotifer Brachionus koreanus compared to microsized ones, which was associated with oxidative stress-induced damages on lipid membranes. In addition, multixenobiotic resistance conferred by P-glycoproteins and multidrug resistance proteins, as a first line of membrane defense, was inhibited by nanoplastic pre-exposure, leading to enhanced toxicity of 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether and triclosan in B. koreanus. Our study provides a molecular mechanistic insight into the toxicity of nanosized microplastics toward aquatic invertebrates and further implies the significance of synergetic effects of microplastics with other environmental persistent organic pollutants.

How can risks from nanotechnology be managed ?

The Essential Elements of a Risk Governance Framework for Current and Future Nanotechnologies

Currently laws and regulations governing nanotechnology are fragmented and do not take account of the unique properties of nanomaterials, the effect of which on humans and the environment are not yet fully understood, argue researchers in a new study.

In the study, a network of European researchers propose a new universal regulatory framework that deals specifically with nanomaterials. The framework should help policymakers, organisations and researchers evaluate the risks of any existing materials and new nanomaterials entering the market. It should also help SMEs and large companies use safer products and processes, limit the potential adverse effects of nanomaterials on workers and consumers, reduce the cost of insurance and reduce the risk of governments having to pay out money in the future due to unforeseen accidents or diseases.

2018 Study Abstract

Societies worldwide are investing considerable resources into the safe development and use of nanomaterials. Although each of these protective efforts is crucial for governing the risks of nanomaterials, they are insufficient in isolation. What is missing is a more integrative governance approach that goes beyond legislation. Development of this approach must be evidence based and involve key stakeholders to ensure acceptance by end users. The challenge is to develop a framework that coordinates the variety of actors involved in nanotechnology and civil society to facilitate consideration of the complex issues that occur in this rapidly evolving research and development area. Here, we propose three sets of essential elements required to generate an effective risk governance framework for nanomaterials.

  1. Advanced tools to facilitate risk-based decision making, including an assessment of the needs of users regarding risk assessment, mitigation, and transfer.
  2. An integrated model of predicted human behavior and decision making concerning nanomaterial risks.
  3. Legal and other (nano-specific and general) regulatory requirements to ensure compliance and to stimulate proactive approaches to safety.

The implementation of such an approach should facilitate and motivate good practice for the various stakeholders to allow the safe and sustainable future development of nanotechnology.

The negative impact of the environment on methylation/epigenetic marking in gametes and embryos

A plea for action to protect the fertility of future generations, 17 January 2019


Life expectancy has increased since World War II and this may be attributed to several aspects of modern lifestyles. However, now we are faced with a downturn, which seems to be the result of environmental issues. This paradigm is paralleled with a reduction in human fertility: decreased sperm quality and increased premature ovarian failure and diminished ovarian reserve syndromes.

Endocrine Disruptor Compounds (EDCs) and other toxic chemicals: herbicides, pesticides, plasticizers, to mention a few, are a rising concern in today environment. Some of these are commonly used in the domestic setting: cleaning material and cosmetics and they have a known impact on epigenesis and imprinting via perturbation of methylation processes. Pollution from Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), particulate matter (PM), <10 and <2.5 μm and ozone, released into the air all affect fertility. Poor food processing management is a source DNA adducts formation, impairing gametes quality. An important question to be answered is that of nanoparticles (NPs) that are present in food and which are thought to induce oxidative stress. Now is the time to take a step backwards. Global management of the environment and food production is required urgently in order to protect the fertility of future generations.


DES and the GENES

Assessing the environmental safety of manufactured nanomaterials

Science for Environment Policy, IN-DEPTH REPORT, August 2017

Engineering at the nanoscale (one million to ten thousand times smaller than a millimetre; i.e. 1 to 100 nanometres) brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale brings its own safety challenges.

This – Assessing the environmental safety of manufactured nanomaterialsIn-depth Report shows that, despite early fears, nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles; however, differences between them may be notable and new insights are still being provided by research.

The effects of nanoparticles on humans and the environment are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and the possible implications for policy and research.

  • Featured image Possible impacts of MNMs (manmade nanomaterials) on the aquatic environment (Geppert, 2015),, PDF page 54.
Related articles from Science for Environment Policy
  • Nanomaterial alternatives assessment: a powerful tool for identifying safer options, (June 2017).
  • Nanomaterial risk assessment frameworks and tools (March 2017).
  • Nanoparticles’ ecological risks: effects on soil microorganisms, (June 2016).
  • Collecting data to explore the ecological threat of (October 2015).

Plastic nanoparticles likely to be transferred even further up the food web to ultimately reach humans

Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain

2017 Study Abstract

The tremendous increases in production of plastic materials has led to an accumulation of plastic pollution worldwide. Many studies have addressed the physical effects of large-sized plastics on organisms, whereas few have focused on plastic nanoparticles, despite their distinct chemical, physical and mechanical properties. Hence our understanding of their effects on ecosystem function, behaviour and metabolism of organisms remains elusive. Here we demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles reduce survival of aquatic zooplankton and penetrate the blood-to-brain barrier in fish and cause behavioural disorders. Hence, for the first time, we uncover direct interactions between plastic nanoparticles and brain tissue, which is the likely mechanism behind the observed behavioural disorders in the top consumer. In a broader perspective, our findings demonstrate that plastic nanoparticles are transferred up through a food chain, enter the brain of the top consumer and affect its behaviour, thereby severely disrupting the function of natural ecosystems.


The amount of plastics in the world’s water bodies is rapidly increasing and this material degrades in size over time and will eventually break down into plastic nanoparticles. Due to their small size, they easily enter the basis of natural food chains, although it is unclear how these particles affect aquatic ecosystems. We show here that 52 nm positively charged amino modified polystyrene nanoparticles are toxic to Daphnia and that fish feeding on Daphnia containing plastic nanoparticles change their behaviour in terms of activity, feeding time and the distance they need to swim to consume their provided food. Furthermore, the behavioural changes depend on the size of the particles. However, fish receiving 180 nm particles were differently affected as they were the fastest feeders and had the highest activity. In nature, the particles likely become aggregated with biological or inorganic material, but we here show that the nano-size effect remains after passing through the Daphnia digestive system. For example, Ward et al. exposed the blue mussel Mytilus edulis and the oyster Crassostrea virginica to polystyrene nanoparticles, aggregated nanoparticles and micro-particles and found a higher ingestion rate for the aggregated nanoparticles. Wegner et al. exposed the mussel Mytilus edulis to polystyrene nanoparticles both as nano-sized particles and as aggregated polystyrene nanoparticles. They found a reduced filtering rate and an increased production of pseudofeces. In this context, our results point to an acute need for a deeper understanding of the size-dependent toxicity effects of nanoparticles when released into nature. How these particles affect organisms higher up in the food web, such as fish, as well as how they affect birds and mammals are unclear. In 2015, the estimated amount of plastics being released into the ocean was between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons, with a steady increase the coming years. Eventually this plastic will degrade in size and reach the nanometer size range.

Here we demonstrate how plastic nanoparticles are transported up the food chain and are detected in brain tissue of the fish top consumer whereas no polystyrene were detected in the control group. Moreover, we also here report macroscopic changes in the brain structure and water content in fish that have received plastic nanoparticles. By using hyperspectral microscopy, we were able to detect polystyrene particles in fish brain tissue and thereby we have, for the first time, demonstrated that the plastics nanoparticles can be transported across the blood-brain barrier in fish. Moreover, this result suggests a mechanistic link between the observed behavioural changes and the presence of plastic nanoparticles in the brain tissue. In the present study, we observed changes in the brain which may have been caused by specific interactions between the plastics and the brain tissue, although we cannot rule out that other organs may also be affected. Our study lasted for two months, but during the first half of the experiment we observed no changes in behaviour of the nanoparticle fed fish, suggesting that fish are affected by the particles that are accumulated in the fish. In nature, the Daphnia and fish are likely exposed to low concentrations of plastic nanoparticles during their whole life-time, which allows accumulation processes to act for a much longer time period than in our study, since fish, such as crucian carp, may live for more than 10 years. However, our results also imply that effects on biota from plastic nanoplastics are dependent on both concentration and size of the particles, which opens up for manufacturers to adjust production of nanoparticles to sizes that are less hazardous to organism metabolism and thereby ecosystem function.

The main conclusion from our study is that plastic nanoparticles are transferred through three tropic levels, suggesting that they are likely to be transferred even further up the food web to ultimately reach humans, the top-level consumer. Hence, in a broader perspective, our results may have implications for human wellbeing, although such consequences of the accelerating disposal rate of plastics is yet not well recognized or understood.

Full Paper

  • Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain, Nature Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10813-0, 13 September 2017.
  • Nanoparticles featured image : Food chain from algae-zooplankton-fish, nanoparticles (53 nm mass (dark blue), 53 nm surface area (light blue) and 180 nm (red)) credit nature.

Urban air pollution: high levels of magnetite found in human brain tissues

Toxic Air Pollution Can Penetrate the Brain

Magnetite pollutants found in polluted urban areas can infiltrate the brain through the olfactory nerve, potentially contributing to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, a new research says.

The study lead by Yinon Rudich, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, adds to growing evidence showing how even low levels of air pollution harm human health.


Biologically formed nanoparticles of the strongly magnetic mineral, magnetite, were first detected in the human brain over 20 years ago. Magnetite can have potentially large impacts on the brain due to its unique combination of redox activity, surface charge, and strongly magnetic behavior.

Magnetite pollution nanoparticles in the human brain, pnas, September 6, 2016.

Brain by greenflames09.

We used magnetic analyses and electron microscopy to identify the abundant presence in the brain of magnetite nanoparticles that are consistent with high-temperature formation, suggesting, therefore, an external, not internal, source. Comprising a separate nanoparticle population from the euhedral particles ascribed to endogenous sources, these brain magnetites are often found with other transition metal nanoparticles, and they display rounded crystal morphologies and fused surface textures, reflecting crystallization upon cooling from an initially heated, iron-bearing source material. Such high-temperature magnetite nanospheres are ubiquitous and abundant in airborne particulate matter pollution. They arise as combustion-derived, iron-rich particles, often associated with other transition metal particles, which condense and/or oxidize upon airborne release. Those magnetite pollutant particles which are <∼200 nm in diameter can enter the brain directly via the olfactory bulb. Their presence proves that externally sourced iron-bearing nanoparticles, rather than their soluble compounds, can be transported directly into the brain, where they may pose hazard to human health.

Impact of engineered nanoparticles on the activity, abundance, and diversity of soil microbial communities

Nanoparticles’ ecological risks: effects on soil microorganisms

Nanotechnology is a key enabling technology predicted to have many societal benefits, but there are also concerns about its risks to the environment. This study reviewed the effects of nanoparticles on soil microorganisms, showing that toxicity depends on the type of particle. The researchers make recommendations for improving environmental risk assessment, including performing experiments in soil and over longer time periods.


Impact of engineered nanoparticles on the activity, abundance, and diversity of soil microbial communities: a review, NCBI PubMed, PMID: 25647498, 2015 Sep.

Magnetic flux lines for nickel nanoparticles by brookhavenlab.

This report presents an exhaustive literature review of the effects of engineered nanoparticles on soil microbial communities.

The toxic effects on microbial communities are highly dependent on the type of nanoparticles considered. Inorganic nanoparticles (metal and metal oxide) seem to have a greater toxic potential than organic nanoparticles (fullerenes and carbon nanotubes) on soil microorganisms.

Detrimental effects of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles on microbial activity, abundance, and diversity have been demonstrated, even for very low concentrations (250 mg kg(-1)), representing a worst case scenario.

Considering that most of the available literature has analyzed the impact of an acute contamination of nanoparticles using high concentrations in a single soil, several research needs have been identified, and new directions have been proposed. The effects of realistic concentrations of nanoparticles based on the concentrations predicted in modelization studies and chronic contaminations should be simulated.

The influence of soil properties on the nanoparticle toxicity is still unknown and that is why it is crucial to consider the ecotoxicity of nanoparticles in a range of different soils. The identification of soil parameters controlling the bioavailability and toxicity of nanoparticles is fundamental for a better environmental risk assessment.

Concerns about Nanoparticles Risks to the Environment

Toxicity depends on the type of particle

Nanoparticles are tiny particles under 100 nanometres in size — around 1 000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Due to their large surface area-tovolume ratios, they can be used to produce materials with new functions and properties (compared to their conventional forms), such as very thin films, tubes, wires and coatings. Engineered nanoparticles are already widely used in the electronics, food technology, energy and pharmaceuticals sectors and have an estimated global market value of €20 billion.

Although nanoparticles have many beneficial applications, there is concern about what might happen if they are released into the environment (their ecological risk). Laboratory studies have shown that many nanoparticles — specifically those made of silver, copper and zinc — have anti-microbial properties. While these may be beneficial for medical applications, the introduction of such particles into the natural environment could pose a threat to beneficial microbial communities (bacteria, fungi and archaea), such as those found in soil.

Nanoparticles’ ecological risks: effects on soil microorganisms, , Science for Environment Policy News Alert, 15 July 2016.

Magnetic flux lines for nickel nanoparticles by brookhavenlab.

This is a growing concern, as models suggest that soil is a major receptor of nanoparticles — more so than air or water. Nanoparticles can enter the soil through industrial spills, landfill sites or when sewage sludge is used as a fertiliser. They can also be used intentionally to clean the soil. Nanoscale zerovalent iron (nZVI) particles, for example, have been used to remove a range of pollutants from soil (in a process known as bioremediation).

It is important that any potential adverse effects are detected early, as soil microorganisms provide essential ecosystem services, including nutrient cycling, crop production and climate regulation.

Impact of engineered nanoparticles on the activity, abundance, and diversity of soil microbial communities: a review, NCBI PubMed, PMID: 25647498, 2015 Sep.

To assess the effects of engineered nanoparticles on soil microbial communities, the researchers performed a comprehensive literature review. They noted the effects of three major types of nanoparticles — metal and metal oxide nanoparticles, carbon-based nanoparticles and nZVI — on the number of microorganisms (abundance), number of different species of microorganisms (diversity) and their activity.

Overall, they found that toxic effects depend on the type of nanoparticle, with metal nanoparticles generally being more toxic than organic (carbon-based) nanoparticles. Metal and metal oxide nanoparticles can have toxic effects on activity, abundance and diversity even at concentrations below 1 milligram per kilogram (mg per kg). For example, silver nanoparticles have been shown to reduce some enzyme activities in microorganisms (which are important for their ability to break down organic matter in soil and contribute to crucial biogeochemical cycles), while copper- and zinc-based nanoparticles can reduce bacterial growth and biomass.

Metal nanoparticles can also affect the entire bacterial community; in one study, sewage sludge containing 0.14 mg per kg of silver nanoparticles changed the bacterial community structure, despite only a short-term exposure. However, very high concentrations of carbon nanoparticles, much higher than those predicted to be found in the environment (over 250 mg per kg), are required to have negative effects.

Surprisingly, nZVI (which is widely used to restore polluted soils) can have detrimental effects on the ability of microorganisms to biodegrade pollutants — the essence of soil bioremediation. The researchers say more work is needed to understand how nZVI treatments may be affecting these non-target populations and, therefore, soil functions.

As well as the type of nanoparticle, soil properties are also important in determining the toxic effects of nanoparticles. Organic matter content, pH and texture, for example, all influence the type of microorganisms living in the soil and the ability of pollutants to have toxic effects on them (bioavailability).

The researchers say that most studies to date have only analysed the impact of nanoparticle contamination using high concentrations and in a single type of soil. They recommend that future studies should use concentrations of nanoparticles that are likely to be found in natural settings (and over longer time periods) and should compare the toxicity of the same nanoparticles in different soils. This could facilitate the identification of the soil properties that influence the bioavailability and toxicity of nanoparticles, which they say is ‘fundamental’ for environmental risk assessment.

Further recommendations for risk assessment include studying nanoparticles in natural conditions (which is currently technically challenging) and investigating how nanoparticles interact with other pollutants in soil, such as heavy metals and pharmaceutical residues.

Baby cosmetics still contain too many ingredients of concern

WECF releases survey on 341 baby cosmetics products of which 299 contain high risk ingredients

Safety of Cosmetic Products for Babies Called Into Question by WECF France
Safety of Cosmetic Products for Babies Called Into Question by WECF France.

Using analysis of existing scientific literature and opinions from European Union and French risk assessment agencies, experts classified ingredients or groups of ingredients into three categories: high risk, moderate risk and low or not identified risk.

WECF found that three ingredients or ingredient families it considered high risk are in 299 of the products. These include methylisothiazolinone, a contact allergen; perfume or fragrance, which may involve potential allergy risks, and phenoxyethanol, a preservative suspected to be reprotoxic.

There are also four ingredients or ingredient families that were classified as moderate risk found in 181 products. They are: EDTA, commonly used in foaming products; laureth and lauryl sulfate, which are foaming agents; mineral oils, byproducts of petroleum, which could be contaminated by impurities, and nanoparticles.

More information
  • Safety of Cosmetic Products for Babies Called Into Question by WECF France, wecf, 16.02.2016.
  • Baby cosmetics still contain too many ingredients of concern, wecf, 15.02.2016.
  • RAPPORT Cosmétiques pour bébés, wecf, 16.02.2016.
  • Rapport cosmétiques FINAL, Wecf, 15.02.2016.

Removal of endocrine disrupting compounds from wastewater using polymer particles

Nanomaterials and UV light can “trap” chemicals for easy removal from soil and water

Nanoparticles that lose their stability upon irradiation with light have been designed to extract endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and other contaminants from water and soils. The system exploits the large surface-to-volume ratio of nanoparticles, while the photoinduced precipitation ensures nanomaterials are not released in the environment. MIT News.


Removal of endocrine disrupting compounds from wastewater using polymer particles, Water science and technology : a journal of the International Association on Water Pollution Research, NCBI PubMed PMID: 26744949, 2016.

This study evaluated the use of particles of molecularly imprinted and non-imprinted polymers (MIP and NIP) as a wastewater treatment method for endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs).

MIP and NIP remove EDCs through adsorption and therefore do not result in the formation of partially degraded products. The results show that both MIP and NIP particles are effective for removal of EDCs, and NIP have the advantage of not being as compound-specific as the MIP and hence can remove a diverse range of compounds including 17-β-estradiol (E2), atrazine, bisphenol A, and diethylstilbestrol.

Removal of E2 from wastewater was also tested to determine the effectiveness of NIP in the presence of interfering substances and natural organic matter. Removal of E2 from wastewater samples was high and increased with increasing NIP. NIP represent an effective way of removing a wide variety of EDCs from wastewater.