Pollution from nanomaterials
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Nanopollution is a generic name for waste generated by nanodevices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process. Ecotoxicological impacts of nanoparticles and the potential for bioaccumulation in plants and microorganisms is a subject of current research, as nanoparticles are considered to present novel environmental impacts. Of the US$710 million spent in 2002 by the U.S. government on nanotechnology research, $500,000 was spent on environmental impact assessments.
Nanowaste is mainly the group of particles that are released into the environment, or the particles that are thrown away when still on their products. The thrown away nanoparticles are usually still functioning how they are supposed to (still have their individual properties), they are just not being properly used anymore. Most of the time, they are lost due to contact with different environments. Silver nanoparticles, for example, they are used a lot in clothes to control odor, those particles are lost when washing them. The fact that they are still functioning and are so small is what makes nanowaste a concern. It can float in the air and might easily penetrate animal and plant cells causing unknown effects. Due to its small size, nanoparticles can have different properties than their own material when on a bigger size, and they are also functioning more efficiently because of its greater surface area. Most human-made nanoparticles do not appear in nature, so living organisms may not have appropriate means to deal with nanowaste.
Tinkle et al opine that, the presence of nanomaterials in our surroundings is not a herald of possible environmental hazards, because, the propensity towards toxicity as far as nanomaterials are concerned revolves around certain properties such as: Size, Geometry, Surface properties (charge, surface chemistry), Crystal structure and Chemical composition. Hund-Rinke et al, have established that mundane climatic dispositions/parameters could affect the properties of nanomaterials and consequently alter their bioavailability, hence potential toxicity/hazard, such environmental parameters include salinity and pH value.
The capacity for nanoparticles to function as a transport mechanism also raises concern about the transport of heavy metals and other environmental contaminants. Two areas of concern can be identified. First, in their free form nanoparticles can be released into the air or water during production, or production accidents, or as waste by-product of production, and ultimately accumulate in the soil, water, or plant life. Second, in fixed form, where they are part of a manufactured substance or product, they will ultimately have to be recycled or disposed of as waste.
Scrinis raises concerns about nano-pollution, and argues that it is not currently possible to “precisely predict or control the ecological impacts of the release of these nano-products into the environment.” A May 2007 Report to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs noted concerns about the toxicological impacts of nanoparticles in relation to both hazard and exposure. The report recommended comprehensive toxicological testing and independent performance tests of fuel additives. Risks have been identified by Uskokovic in 2007. Concerns have also been raised about Silver Nano technology used by Samsung in a range of appliances such as washing machines and air purifiers.
One known consequences of human exposure to metals is the development of illnesses such as argyria and argyrosis caused by chronic exposure to soluble silver compounds. Silver can also cause some environmental problems. Due to its antimicrobial (antibacterial) properties, when present in soil it can kill beneficial bacteria that are important to keep the soil healthy. Environmental assessment is justified as nanoparticles present novel environmental impacts. Scrinis raises concerns about nano-pollution, and argues that it is not currently possible to “precisely predict or control the ecological impacts of the release of these nano-products into the environment.”
Metals, in particular, exhibit strong bonds in compounds down to the nanoscale. Metals can stay and damage the environment for a long time, since they hardly degrade or get destroyed. With the increase in use of nanotechnology, it is predicted that the nanowaste of metals will keep increasing, and until a solution is found for that problem, that waste will keep accumulating in the environment. On the other hand, some possible future applications of nanotechnology have the potential to benefit the environment. Nanofiltration, based on the use of membranes with extremely small pores smaller than 10 nm (perhaps composed of nanotubes) are suitable for a mechanical filtration for the removal of ions or the separation of different fluids. One study has found a solution to filtrate and extract those nanoparticles from water. The process is still under investigation, but simulations have shown the total of about 90% to 99% removal of nanowaste particles from the water at an upgraded waste water treatment plant. Once the particles are separated from the water, they go to the landfill with the rest of the solids. Furthermore, magnetic nanoparticles offer an effective and reliable method to remove heavy metal contaminants from wastewater. Using nanoscale particles increases the efficiency of contaminant absorption and is comparatively inexpensive to traditional precipitation and filtration methods. One current method to recover nanoparticles is cloud point extraction, which allows pre-concentrated gold or other metallic nanoparticles to be extracted from aqueous solutions by manipulating temperature and surfactant concentration.
Life cycle responsibility
To properly assess the health hazards of engineered nanoparticles the whole life cycle of these particles needs to be evaluated, including their fabrication, storage and distribution, application and potential abuse, and disposal. The impact on humans or the environment may vary at different stages of the life cycle.
The Royal Society report identified a risk of nanoparticles or nanotubes being released during disposal, destruction and recycling, and recommended that “manufacturers of products that fall under extended producer responsibility regimes such as end-of-life regulations publish procedures outlining how these materials will be managed to minimize possible human and environmental exposure” (p.xiii). Reflecting the challenges for ensuring responsible life cycle regulation, the Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards has proposed standards for nanotechnology research and development should be integrated across consumer, worker and environmental standards. They also propose that NGOs and other citizen groups play a meaningful role in the development of these standards.
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