Proxy Measures for Simplified Environmental Assessment of Manufactured Nanomaterials
Review article, 2018

Proxy measures have been proposed as a low-data option for simplified assessment of environmental threat given the high complexity of the natural environment. We here review studies of environmental release, fate, toxicity, and risk to identify relevant proxy measures for manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs). In total, 18 potential proxy measures were identified and evaluated regarding their link to environmental risk, an aspect of relevance, and data availability, an aspect of practice. They include socio-technical measures (e.g., MNM release), particle-specific measures (e.g., particle size), partitioning coefficients (e.g., the octanol–water coefficient), and other fate-related measures (e.g., half-life) as well as various ecotoxicological measures (e.g., 50% effect concentration). For most identified proxy measures, the link to environmental risk was weak and data availability low. Two exceptions were global production volume and ecotoxicity, for which the links to environmental risk are strong and data availability relatively decent. As proof of concept, these were employed to assess seven MNMs: titanium dioxide, cerium dioxide, zinc oxide, silver, silicon dioxide, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. The results show that none of the MNMs have both high production volumes and high ecotoxicity. Several refinements of the assessment are possible, such as higher resolution regarding the MNMs assessed (e.g., different allotropes) and different metrics (e.g., particle number and surface area). The proof of concept shows the feasibility of using proxy measures for environmental assessment of MNMs, in particular for novel MNMs in early technological development, when data is particularly scarce.


Rickard Arvidsson

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

Anders Baun

Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

Anna Furberg

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Steffen Foss Hansen

Technical University of Denmark (DTU)

Sverker Molander

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Environmental Science & Technology

0013-936X (ISSN) 1520-5851 (eISSN)

Vol. 52 23 13670-13680

Mistra Environmental Nanosafety

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra), 2014-01-01 -- 2018-01-01.

Environmental and resource performance of the nanomaterials graphene and nanocellulose

Formas (213-2014-322), 2015-01-01 -- 2018-12-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Subject Categories

Environmental Engineering





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