Jump to main content
Jump to site search

Issue 4, 2017
Previous Article Next Article

Increasing evidence indicates low bioaccumulation of carbon nanotubes

Author affiliations


As the production of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) expands, so might the potential for release into the environment. The possibility of bioaccumulation and toxicological effects has prompted research on their fate and potential ecological effects. For many organic chemicals, bioaccumulation properties are associated with lipid–water partitioning properties. However, predictions based on phase partitioning provide a poor fit for nanomaterials. In the absence of data on the bioaccumulation and other properties of CNTs, the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) within the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) subjects new pre-manufacture submissions for all nanomaterials to a higher-level review. We review the literature on CNT bioaccumulation by plants, invertebrates and non-mammalian vertebrates, summarizing 42 studies to improve the assessment of the potential for bioaccumulation. Because the properties and environmental fate of CNTs may be affected by type (single versus multiwall), functionalization, and dosing technique, the bioaccumulation studies were reviewed with respect to these factors. Absorption into tissues and elimination behaviors across species were also investigated. All of the invertebrate and non-mammalian vertebrate studies showed little to no absorption of the material from the gut tract to other tissues. These findings combined with the lack of biomagnification in the CNT trophic transfer studies conducted to date suggest that the overall risk of trophic transfer is low. Based on the available data, in particular the low levels of absorption of CNTs across epithelial surfaces, CNTs generally appear to form a class that should be designated as a low concern for bioaccumulation.

Graphical abstract: Increasing evidence indicates low bioaccumulation of carbon nanotubes

Back to tab navigation

Article information

08 Sep 2016
27 Jan 2017
First published
21 Feb 2017

Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2017,4, 747-766
Article type

Increasing evidence indicates low bioaccumulation of carbon nanotubes

R. Bjorkland, D. A. Tobias and E. J. Petersen, Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2017, 4, 747
DOI: 10.1039/C6EN00389C

Social activity

Search articles by author