Nanotechnology is a fast growing industrial sector and the development of new nanomaterial-based products is expected to provide promising new solutions to many of our technical and environmental challenges. However, the rapid development and use of novel products and application areas simultaneously lead to an emerging risk for exposure of nanomaterial to humans and natural ecosystems. Potential adverse effects and risks are connected to the diffuse environmental dispersion of nanomaterial due to man-made material degradation and weathering of products, as well as from fuel combustion and waste handling, to mention a few cases. What risks that are associated with the release and diffuse dispersion of nanomaterial suffer from large knowledge gaps. This leads to uncertainties among both industry and regulatory organisations on how to promote nanoproducts and nanomaterials and how to ensure their safe use. These uncertainties will also influence the view of the general society, including consumers, on products including nanomaterials. Taken together, this will jeopardize and likely also hamper innovation and promotion of new nanotechnology. There are several challenges related to risk assessments of nanomaterial since the impact and potential adverse effects of nanomaterials on natural systems does not only depend on the amount released, but also on aspects such as the type, size, and morphology of the material. Once released into nature, nanomaterials are difficult to detect and characterize and measurements on their amount or specific impact at complex outdoor conditions are not trivial. As a consequence of this complexity, current environmental risk assessment and regulatory framework are based on findings for pristine nanomaterial at relatively simple conditions. Several experimental outcomes from Phase I of the Mistra Environmental Nanosafety program clearly emphasize the importance of transformation/dissolution, i.e. chemical weathering, agglomeration, mobility etc. of the nanomaterial at natural conditions on the toxic potency. Results from our long term tests elucidate for example the importance of chronic tests, showing severe long-term toxic effects not observed by short-term, acute tests. In order to ensure nanosafety in both industry and society it is crucial that these preliminary findings of Phase I are addressed in new risk assessments and into the regulatory framework. Rigorous experimental data at semi-natural or natural scale should be the basis for recommendations to industry and regulators. This will demand complex experimental set-ups, linking careful characterization of transformed nanomaterial that may result in toxic effects on a long-term perspective with studies of relevant nanomaterial that show sublethal effects at low concentrations.
In Phase II of the Mistra Environmental Nanosafety program we will hence mainly focus on the fate of nanomaterials in semi-natural experimental wetland systems, at simulated realistic surface water conditions and conditions during waste handling, and how this knowledge can be implemented in nanosafety regulation. Specifically, the fate and transformation of pristine and weathered nanomaterials will be carefully characterized regarding surface chemistry, dissolution, speciation, agglomeration, combinatory effects and adsorption of biomolecules in the wetland experimental set-up mimicking natural conditions, as well as in advanced laboratory scale experiments. Weathered and pristine nanomaterials as well as combinatory effects will be simultaneously investigated for acute and longterm toxicity, and for sub-lethal effects on organisms with the aim to describe the influence of nanomaterial transformation. The same well-characterized nanomaterials will further be used to elaborate and develop efficient cell based toxicity tests with the ability to time- and cost effectively assess and screen the toxicity of different nanomaterial. Generated data will be directly applicable for risk assessments and regulatory frameworks of relevance for both industry and society, and allow for the development of industrial processes and systems that better integrate knowledge of these transformation effects. In close collaboration with our well-established industry-network, our research findings will result in the development of new frameworks that ensure the conservation and promotion of innovation friendly environments, which can only be achieved via an efficient flow and transfer of information between researchers, decision makers and industry. In all, the program outcomes will result in substantially increased knowledge and understanding of real risks associated to the use of nanomaterials, novel cost efficient and realistic test systems, and suggestions for improved and more realistic strategies on how to address risks of nanomaterials in environmental risk assessment and within the context of regulation. A scientifically-based overall understanding of the fate of the environmental dispersion and transformation of nanomaterials used in and dispersed from nanotechnological products-, processes and waste allows for the society and industry to safely develop and use nanomaterials.
Associate Professor at Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis
LEKTOR at Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society
Doctoral Student at Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis
Professor at Chalmers, Physics, Chemical Physics
Associate Professor at Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society
Funding Chalmers participation during 2019–2023