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Environmental Transport and Transformation of Nanomaterials

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EPA Nanotechnology & Nanomaterials Research

Electron microscope images of two types of silver nanoparticles of different size and shape

Electron microscope images of two types of silver nanoparticles of different size and shape
(Images from El Badawy et al., 2010)

Manufactured nanomaterials are in more than 1,300 commercial products, such as: detergent disinfectants, wood preservatives, pesticides, cosmetics, medical delivery devices, and construction materials. Once released into the environment, nanomaterials are subject to wide variety of transport and transformation processes. They carried along by the surrounding medium and distributed. As they distributed, they are mix with other medium and can transform through either chemical reactions or physical processes such as abrasion. The nanomaterials dilute with distance and time. New (transformed) pollutants tend to develop, which may be potentially harmful for humans. In order to estimate exposures and risks for human health, we need to understand and measure the effects of these transport and transformation processes.

As a member of the National Nanotechnology Initiative and part of EPA's overall chemical safety research efforts, EPA scientists are assessing the environmental and health impacts of nanomaterials.

One area of research EPA is studying the release of nanomaterials into the environment. Nanomaterials can be released several ways, including:

  • use of household or commercial products,
  • decay of materials such as coatings,
  • discharge from wastewater treatment plants, and
  • accidental spills of materials during manufacturing.

EPA scientists are developing tools to connect the chemical properties of nanomaterials to their transport and transformation. This is essential for risk assessment and management. Current research is focused on these nanoparticles: 

Why Understanding Transport and Transformation is Important

Nanoscale metals can be changed in the environment to different species of the metals, with different charges. When this happens the biological activity may change also, effecting how human and non-human organisms are impacted by the exposure.

Additional Information

EPA Nanotechnology & Nanomaterials Research

Nanomaterials EPA is Assessing

Control of Nanoscale Materials under the Toxic Substances Control Act


Risk Mangement Research | Air and Climate Change Research | Water Research | Ecosystems Restoration Research | Land Risk Management Research | Technology: Sustainable Technologies Research, Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETV), and Technology Assessments

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