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Ecotoxicity screening of seven different types of commercial silica nanoparticles using cellular and organismic assays: Importance of surfae and size

Journal article
Authors Frida Book
Mikael T. Ekvall
Michael Persson
Sara Lönnerud
Tobias Lammel
Joachim Sturve
Thomas Backhaus
Published in NanoImpact
Volume 13
Pages 100-111
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 100-111
Language en
Subject categories Environmental Sciences


We show that seven different types of commercial, biocide-free, colloidal silica products with mean particle sizes between 17 and 88 nm with 3 different surface chemistries (Na-stabilized, aluminized and silane-modified) are not toxic to the bacterium Pseudomonas putida, and the algae Raphidocelis subcapitata in the concentration range 5–500 mg/L. They are also not acutely toxic to Daphnia magna at concentrations up to 10,000 mg/L. Six silica particles are toxic to the gill cell line RTgill-W1 from Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), showing a clear concentration-response relationship with EC50 values between 13 and 92 mg/L. Toxicity in the fish cells decreases with increasing hydrodynamic size and is dependent on particle surface area. The average EC50 across the tested particles is 2.1 (±0.3) m2/L. Surface modifications clearly impact toxicity, with silane-modified particles showing no cytotoxicity. The reduced number of free silanol groups on the surface of the silane modified particle, in combination with an increased steric hindrance that prevents contact with the cells is a possible mechanism for the observed lack of toxicity. This is also in line with previous studies on silica nanoparticles in human toxicology. Overall, these findings show a generally low ecotoxicity of silica nanoparticles and indicate that silica particles of different sizes but identical surface chemistry could potentially be grouped into an assessment group under regulation such as REACH.

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