The increasing industrial application of metal oxide Engineered Nano-Particles (ENPs) is likely to increase their environmental release to soils. While the potential of metal oxide ENPs as environmental toxicants has been shown, lack of suitable control treatments have compromised the power of many previous assessments. We evaluated the ecotoxicity of ENP (nano) forms of Zn and Cu oxides in two different soils by measuring their ability to inhibit bacterial growth. We could show a direct acute toxicity of nano-CuO acting on soil bacteria while the macroparticulate (bulk) form of CuO was not toxic. In comparison, CuSO 4 was more toxic than either oxide form. Unlike Cu, all forms of Zn were toxic to soil bacteria, and the bulk-ZnO was more toxic than the nano-ZnO. The ZnSO 4 addition was not consistently more toxic than the oxide forms. Consistently, we found a tight link between the dissolved concentration of metal in solution and the inhibition of bacterial growth. The inconsistent toxicological response between soils could be explained by different resulting concentrations of metals in soil solution. Our findings suggested that the principal mechanism of toxicity was dissolution of metal oxides and sulphates into a metal ion form known to be highly toxic to bacteria, and not a direct effect of nano-sized particles acting on bacteria. We propose that integrated efforts toward directly assessing bioavailable metal concentrations are more valuable than spending resources to reassess ecotoxicology of ENPs separately from general metal toxicity. © 2012 Rousk et al.
Rousk, J., Ackermann, K., Curling, S. F., & Jones, D. L. (2012). Comparative toxicity of nanoparticulate CuO and ZnO to soil bacterial communities. PLoS ONE, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034197