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Evaluation of bioaccumulation studies using nanoplastics, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, and graphene family materials



Elijah Petersen, Ana Barrios, Rhema Bjorkland, David Goodwin, Jennifer Li, Greta Waiss, Theodore Henry


Bioaccumulation, persistence, and toxicity are key factors in understanding the potential ecotoxicity of substances. While bioaccumulation of dissolved organic and inorganic substances has well developed models and methods, it is substantially more challenging to understand for particulate contaminants such as engineered and incidental carbon nanomaterials (CNMs) (including here carbon nanotubes, graphene family materials, fullerenes, and nanoplastics). The challenges stem partly from difficulties in detecting and quantifying CNMs in biological matrices and also because of poorly understood properties such as potential for absorption across epithelial surface membranes (e.g., the gut tract). Traditional approaches for predicting bioaccumulation of dissolved organic compounds such as octanol-water partition coefficients are widely understood not to be valid for CNMs. In this study, the methods used to evaluate bioaccumulation of different CNMs are critically reviewed. This topic has increased importance given the demonstrated environmental persistence of CNMs in certain matrices. We identify that additional work is needed to develop analytical methods to provide robust, orthogonal methods that can work for CNMs that are unlabeled (e.g., without isotopic or fluorescent labels). In plant studies, uptake of a range of CNMs into the roots and stems has been observed; however, for multicellular organisms other than plants, absorbance across epithelial surfaces and biomagnification were infrequently observed for carbon nanotubes, graphene family materials, and fullerenes. Conflicting results were observed for nanoplastics with some studies reporting absorption across epithelial surfaces. However, the reported absorption in many studies may be a consequence of experimental artifacts, namely release of the fluorescent probe from the plastic particles and subsequent uptake. The absence of control measurements to assess the presence and uptake of freely available fluorescent probe molecules in most studies limited the ability to draw firm conclusions. Overall, performing control experiments is critical, especially for nanoplastic studies.
Environment International


Petersen, E. , Barrios, A. , Bjorkland, R. , Goodwin, D. , Li, J. , Waiss, G. and Henry, T. (2022), Evaluation of bioaccumulation studies using nanoplastics, carbon nanotubes, fullerenes, and graphene family materials, Environment International, [online], (Accessed April 23, 2024)
Created November 22, 2022, Updated March 22, 2024