Metal oxide nanoparticles (MNPs) have been used for many purposes including water treatment, health, cosmetics, electronics, food packaging, and even food products. As their applications continue to expand, concerns have been mounting about the environmental fate and potential health risks of the nanoparticles in the environment. Based on the latest information, this review provides an overview of the factors that affect the fate, transformation and toxicity of MNPs. Emphasis is placed on the effects of various aquatic contaminants under various environmental conditions on the transformation of metal oxides and their transport kinetics—both in homogeneous and heterogeneous systems—and the effects of contaminants on the toxicity of MNPs. The presence of existing contaminants decreases bioavailability through hetero-aggregation, sorption, and/or complexation upon an interaction with MNPs. Contaminants also influence the fate and transport of MNPs and exhibit their synergistic toxic effects that contribute to the extent of the toxicity. This review will help regulators, engineers, and scientists in this field to understand the latest development on MNPs, their interactions with aquatic contaminants as well as the environmental dynamics of their fate and transformation. The knowledge gap and future research needs are also identified, and the challenges in assessing the environmental fate and transport of nanoparticles in heterogeneous systems are discussed.
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