Probabilistic modelling of prospective environmental concentrations of gold nanoparticles from medical applications as a basis for risk assessment

Indrani Mahapatra, Tian Yin Sun, Julian Clark, Peter J Dobson, Konrad Hungerbuehler, Richard Owen, Bernd Nowack, Jamie Lead

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The use of gold nanoparticles (Au-NP) based medical applications is rising due to their unique physical and chemical properties. Diagnostic devices based on Au-NP are already available in the market or are in clinical trials and Au-NP based therapeutics and theranostics (combined diagnostic and treatment modality) are in the research and development phase. Currently, no information on Au-NP consumption, material flows to and concentrations in the environment are available. Therefore, we estimated prospective maximal consumption of Au-NP from medical applications in the UK and US. We then modelled the Au-NP flows post-use and predicted their environmental concentrations. Furthermore, we assessed the environment risks of Au-NP by comparing the predicted environmental concentrations (PECs) with ecological threshold (PNEC) values.

The mean annual estimated consumption of Au-NP from medical applications is 540 kg for the UK and 2700 kg for the US. Among the modelled concentrations of Au-NP in environmental compartments, the mean annual PEC of Au-NP in sludge for both the UK and US was estimated at 124 and 145 μg kg−1, respectively. The mean PEC in surface water was estimated at 468 and 4.7 pg L−1, respectively for the UK and US. The NOEC value for the water compartment ranged from 0.12 up to 26,800 μg L−1, with most values in the range of 1000 μg L−1.

The results using the current set of data indicate that the environmental risk from Au-NP used in nanomedicine in surface waters and from agricultural use of biosolids is minimal in the near future, especially because we have used a worst-case use assessment. More Au-NP toxicity studies are needed for the soil compartment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number93
JournalJournal of Nanobiotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2015


  • Gold nanoparticles
  • Nanomedicine
  • Probabilistic modelling
  • Species sensitivity distribution
  • PEC
  • PNEC


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