Natural nanoparticles: AAS mettle tested

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  • Published: Mar 15, 2019
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: Natural nanoparticles: AAS mettle tested

Natural problem

Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) data have been used to formulate recommendations on safe concentration limits for naturally occurring metal-containing nanoparticles that might be present in drinking water. Credit: Chemosphere/Elsevier, Guai Hua and Jianjin Cao

Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) data have been used to formulate recommendations on safe concentration limits for naturally occurring metal-containing nanoparticles that might be present in drinking water.

The risks and benefits of synthetic metal nanoparticles have been discussed widely in recent years. However, little attention has been given to naturally occurring metal nanoparticles that might be present in the environment derived from metal ores and other sources. Now, Guai Hua of the School of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China and Jianjin Cao of the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Resource Exploration, School of Earth Sciences and Engineering there have for the first time looked at the environmental risks associated with natural nanoparticles.

Transport issue

The team collected samples of deep groundwater and well water in or around four major metal deposits in Inner Mongolia. Initial tests with high resolution transmission electron microscopy (TEM) revealed abundant metal-containing nanoparticles in the water samples. The team reports in the journal Chemosphere how major ore-forming elements of the corresponding metal deposits were present including copper, iron, lead, and zinc as well as associated elements including antimony, arsenic, chromium, and tin. These elements contributed significantly to the overall chemical compositions of the nanoparticles determined. The team adds that comparison analyses could be used to show that the metal-containing nanoparticles had an origin in deep, concealed metal deposits. They had reached the water sources through geological faulting and oxidation of ore minerals and been transported long distances by flowing water.

Underappreciated nanoparticles

Further analysis with AAS and ICP-MS pinned down the nature of the nanoparticles showing them to be similar to the synthetic nanoparticles that are of ongoing environmental concern. "Considering the wide distribution of concealed metal deposits, more attention on related studies was urgently required for establishing specialized risk assessment and monitoring system," the team writes. Given the relative lack of attention paid to natural nanoparticles but the likely widespread nature and the fact that the risks associated with these entities is quite underappreciated, it is important that we now take note and investigate. The researchers add that "It is recommended that the concentration limits of metal-containing nanoparticles should be considered in the safety assessment of drinking water."

Related Links

Chemosphere 2019, 224, 726-733: "Metal-containing nanoparticles derived from concealed metal deposits: An important source of toxic nanoparticles in aquatic environments"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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