Much attention has been paid to extracting and isolating specific and well-known nanoparticles (especially for engineered nanomaterials) from complex environmental matrices. However, such research may not provide global information on actual contamination because nanoscale fragments exist as mixtures of various elements and matrices in the real environment. The present work first isolated and characterized nanoscale fragments in effluents from municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The nanoscale fragments were found to be composed of 70–85% carbon and low amounts of oxygen, heavy metals and other elements and exhibited nanosheet topographies (approximately 0.87–1.31 nm thickness and 68–187 nm lateral length). Because the isolated nanoscale fragments were mixtures rather than one specific type of nanoparticle, they were present at high concentrations ranging from 0.07 to 0.55 mg/L. It was also found that the accumulation of nanoscale fragments in rice reached 0.59 mg/g under exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations, leading to marked phytotoxicity (e.g., ultrastructural damage to chloroplasts and mitochondria). Metabolic analysis revealed the toxicological mechanisms to be related to disorders of carbohydrate, amino acid and fatty acid metabolism. This study is the first to characterize the properties and analyze the toxicity of nanoscale fragments in the effluents of WWTPs. Given that WWTP effluents containing nanoscale fragments are continuously discharged to the soil, surface water and seas, nanoscale fragment materials deserve considerable attention in future work compared with the few widely studied engineered nanoparticles.
Science of the Total Environment – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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