The use of nanoscale zinc oxide (ZnO) in cosmetics, coatings and cleaning agents is expected to result in a relatively high load in surface waters compared to other nanoparticles. Zinc oxide particles dissolve very rapidly in liquids. Actually measured environmental concentrations are not yet available for zinc oxide nanoparticles.


Water sample © Vasily-Merushev/Fotolia.comWater sample © Vasily-Merushev/Fotolia.comThe expected zinc oxide nanoparticle concentrations in the environment were estimated using computer models. Compared to other nanomaterials (e.g. gold), the expected zinc oxide concentrations are very high. This results from many applications, such as textiles or sun screen, from which the zinc is released directly into the environment after use. Only a small share of zinc oxide nanoparticles released into the environment reaches the air. The concentrations of zinc oxide nanoparticles in European waters are subject to severe fluctuations, depending on population and sewage plant density, as well as the seasons. Less zinc oxide is expected to occur in soil and air [1-4,6].


Depending on the environmental compartment, and in relation to known toxic concentrations for aquatic organisms, risk quotients of less than 1 up to ~10 are calculated. This is an indication that an environmental risk by zinc oxide nanoparticles cannot be ruled out for certain compartments (e.g. soil after application of sewage slugde). However, these theoretically calculated values need confirmation in the future by experimentally collected measured values [5].


Due to its applications and its high solubility, zinc oxide nanoparticles are expected to occur mainly in surface waters, whereas less zinc reaches air and soil.


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  1. Tiede, K et al. (2009), J Chromatogr A, 1216(3): 503-509.
  2. Gottschalk, F et al. (2013), Environ, 181: 287-300.
  3. Sun, T (2014), Environ Pollut, 185: 69-76.
  4. Dumont, E et al. (2015), Environ Pollut, 196: 341-349.
  5. Gottschalk, F et al. (2009), Environ Sci Technol, 43(24): 9216-9222.
  6. Sun, T.Y. et al. (2016), Environ Sci Technol, 50(9):4701-4711.



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