Caring about the future

ReaLISE – Derivation of Risk LImits for the Protection of Soil Ecossystem from emerging compounds
Coordinator - Ruth Pereira
Programme - Concursos de Projectos de I&D
Execution dates - 2012-04-01 - 2015-03-31 (36 Months)
Funding Entity - FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia
Funding for CESAM - 75.42 €
Total Funding - 168.792 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro
Participating Institutions
Universidade de Coimbra
PRODEQ - Associação para o Desenvolvimento da Engenharia Química (PRODEQ)
Instituto Piaget, Cooperativa para o Desenvolvimento Humano, Integral e Ecológico CRL (IPiaget)

Project Description

Nanomaterials (NMs) are among the new emergent compounds of the 20th and 21th centuries. Due to their particle size, which dramatically increases their surface area per volume, engineered NMs exhibit unique physical, chemical, electrical, optical, mechanical and magnetic properties, offering the promise of beneficial developments in different areas such as, for example, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, optical and car industry, medicine, electronics and environmental rehabilitation. Although the production, use and disposal of NMs in the different environmental compartments will inevitably increase in the near future, it is also expected, that nanoscale manufacturing will provide the best way to attain a sustainable development. Less material, water and energy will be spent, less waste will be produced and new methods to convert energy, to filter water and to decontaminate soils are expected. Nevertheless, special concerns arise to environmental scientists, since we are still unable to predict environmental concentrations of NMs, their fate and mobility in the different environmental compartments and the magnitude of the exposure of humans and wildlife. Toxicological effects on biota are expected (and have already been proven) because the nanoscale of these materials, which increases the reactivity of their surfaces, promotes their interaction with cellular membranes and sub-cellular components. In fact, possible mechanisms of toxicity of NMs include disruption of membranes, or of the membrane potential, oxidation of proteins, interferences on energy transduction, genotoxicity and the formation of reactive oxygen species. However, little information still exists about these underlying mechanisms.

The emerging engineered NMS will be released into non-pristine environments, where the combined action with chemicals is expected, due to their great ability to bind transition metals and organic pollutants. In fact, the impacts of NMs in the environment may occur as a result of the exposure to toxic NMs themselves, or by altered forms interacting with other compounds in the environment as they aged. Notwithstanding the recommendations of USEPA and European Union policies about the crucial importance of addressing the evaluation of risks to humans and the environment of new emerging NMs, in parallel with their technological development, till now little ecotoxicological information exists for aquatic species, and even less for terrestrial organisms. Existing information is limited both to a few number of species and NMs (mainly fullerenes, carbon tubes and titanium dioxide). Although several hundreds of NMs are already on the market, the toxicity of most of them remains unknown. The lack of ecotoxicological data about NMs is a critical gap, but the lack of analytical techniques for their detection, monitoring and control is even more critical, since among other difficulties it prevents a precise evaluation of exposure scenarios. Thus without both ecotoxicity and exposure data it is not possible to perform adequate risk assessments for ecosystems. Regulators will remain without sound scientific information to support the definition of policies or the production of legal documents aimed in setting specific rules for the production, registration and disposal of NMs. Till then NMs will be covered by the REACH legislation. Bearing these concerns in mind, the main aim of this proposal is to obtain an assemblage of ecotoxicological data for a set of few studied organic and inorganic NMs, using a battery of terrestrial and aquatic species, following standard protocols, and simultaneously characterize NMs “as administered”, using an array of analytical procedures. Following recommendations of the MINchar initiative effective doses of NMs through analysis of spiked soils and elutriate will be quantified. Ecotoxicological data obtained will be used to calculate PNEC (predicted no effect concentrations) values for risk assessment purposes, following the European Commission Technical Guidance Document. Moreover we intend to perceive how some soil properties will govern the mobility, bioavailability and toxicity of these compounds, as well as the occurrence of potential synergistic/or antagonistic toxic actions of NMs with contaminants widely scattered in the environment. This proposal brings together a team with all the expertise required to attain the described objectives, including researchers with a vast experience in ecotoxicology (terrestrial and aquatic) and soil microbiology from CESAM/UA and IMAR-CMA/UC together with researchers with extended curricula in environmental analytical chemistry from Piaget Institute, and in particle characterization and analysis from PRODEQ/CIEPQPF (UC). The team can also count on the advice of Dr. Joerg Roembke (ECTGmbH,Germany), who is an European expert in terrestrial ecotoxicology.

CESAM members on this project



CESAM Funding: UIDP/50017/2020 + UIDB/50017/2020 + LA/P/0094/2020