Silver nanoparticles (Ag-NPs) are used in a wide variety of products, prompting concerns regarding their potential environmental impacts. To accurately determine the toxicity of Ag-NPs it is necessary to differentiate between the toxicity of the nanoparticles themselves and the toxicity of ionic silver (Ag) released from them. This is not a trivial task given the reactive nature of Ag in solution, and its propensity for both adsorption and photoreduction. In the experiments reported here, we quantified the loss of silver from test solutions during standard ecotoxicity testing conducted using a variety of different test container materials and geometries. This sensitive 110mAg isotope tracing method revealed a substantial underestimation of the toxicity of dissolved Ag to the green algae Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata when calculated only on the basis of the initial test concentrations. Furthermore, experiments with surface-functionalized Ag-NPs under standard algal growth inhibition test conditions also demonstrated extensive losses of Ag-NPs from the solution due to adsorption to the container walls, and the extent of loss was dependent on Ag-NP surface-functionality. These results hold important messages for researchers engaged in both environmental and human nanotoxicology testing, not only for Ag-NPs but also for other NPs with various tailored surface chemistries, where these phenomena are recognized but are also frequently disregarded in the experimental design and reporting.
- isotope tracing