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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43983. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043983. Epub 2012 Aug 30.

Toxicity of nano-zero valent iron to freshwater and marine organisms.

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University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, United States of America.


We tested whether three commercial forms (uncoated, organic coating, and iron oxide coating) of nano zero-valent iron (nZVI) are toxic to freshwater and marine organisms, specifically three species of marine phytoplankton, one species of freshwater phytoplankton, and a freshwater zooplankton species (Daphnia magna), because these organisms may be exposed downstream of where nZVI is applied to remediate polluted soil. The aggregation and reactivity of the three types of nZVI varied considerably, which was reflected in their toxicity. Since levels of Fe(2+) and Fe(3+) increase as the nZVI react, we also evaluated their toxicity independently. All four phytoplankton species displayed decreasing population growth rates, and Daphnia magna showed increasing mortality, in response to increasing levels of nZVI, and to a lesser degree with increasing Fe(2+) and Fe(3+). All forms of nZVI aggregated in soil and water, especially in the presence of a high concentration of calcium ions in groundwater, thus reducing their transports through the environment. However, uncoated nZVI aggregated extremely rapidly, thus vastly reducing the probability of environmental transport and potential for toxicity. This information can be used to design a risk management strategy to arrest the transport of injected nZVI beyond the intended remediation area, by injecting inert calcium salts as a barrier to transport.

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