Release, detection and toxicity of fragments generated during artificial accelerated weathering of CdSe/ZnS and CdSe quantum dot polymer composites†
Next generation displays and lighting applications are increasingly using inorganic quantum dots (QDs) embedded in polymer matrices to impart bright and tunable emission properties. The toxicity of some heavy metals present in commercial QDs (e.g. cadmium) has, however, raised concerns about the potential for QDs embedded in polymer matrices to be released during the manufacture, use, and end-of-life phases of the material. One important potential release scenario that polymer composites can experience in the environment is photochemically induced matrix degradation. This process is not well understood at the molecular level. To study this process, the effect of an artificially accelerated weathering process on QD–polymer nanocomposites has been explored by subjecting CdSe and CdSe/ZnS QDs embedded in poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) to UVC irradiation in aqueous media. Significant matrix degradation of QD–PMMA was observed along with measurable mass loss, yellowing of the nanocomposites, and a loss of QD fluorescence. While ICP-MS identified the release of ions, confocal laser scanning microscopy and dark-field hyperspectral imaging were shown to be effective analytical techniques for revealing that QD-containing polymer fragments were also released into aqueous media due to matrix degradation. Viability experiments, which were conducted with Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, showed a statistically significant decrease in bacterial viability when the bacteria were exposed to highly degraded QD-containing polymer fragments. Results from this study highlight the need to quantify not only the extent of nanoparticle release from a polymer nanocomposite but also to determine the form of the released nanoparticles (e.g. ions or polymer fragments).
- This article is part of the themed collection: Nanocircular Economy