The road to nowhere: equilibrium partition coefficients for nanoparticles
Adequate fate descriptors are crucial input parameters in models used to predict the behaviour and transport of a contaminant in the environment and determine predicted environmental concentrations for risk assessment. When new fate models are being developed for emerging contaminants, such as engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), special care has to be applied in adjusting conventional approaches and fate descriptors to a new set of substances. The aim of this paper is to clarify misconceptions about the applicability of equilibrium partition coefficients, such as the octanol–water partition coefficient (Kow) or the soil–water distribution coefficient (Kd), whose application in the context of ENP fate assessment is frequently suggested despite lacking scientific justification. ENPs are present in the environment as thermodynamically unstable suspensions and their behaviour must be represented by kinetically controlled attachment and deposition processes as has been established by colloid science. Here, we illustrate the underlying theories of equilibrium partitioning and kinetically controlled attachment and discuss why the use of any coefficient based on equilibrium partitioning is inadequate for ENPs and can lead to significant errors in ENP fate predictions and risk assessment.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Environmental Science: Nano 2014 Most Accessed Articles