Assessment of Cu and CuO nanoparticle ecological responses using laboratory small-scale microcosms†
Copper based nanoparticles (NPs) are used extensively in industrial and commercial products as sensors, catalysts, surfactants, antimicrobials, and for other purposes. The high production volume and increasing use of copper-based NPs make their ecological risk a concern. Commonly used copper-based NPs are composed of metallic copper or copper oxide (Cu and CuO NPs); however, their environmental toxicity can vary dramatically depending on their physico-chemical properties, such as dissolution, aggregation behavior, and the generation of reactive oxygen species. Here, we investigated the NP dissolution, organismal uptake and aquatic toxicity of Cu and CuO NPs at 0, 0.1, 1, 5 or 10 mg Cu per L using a previously developed multi-species microcosm. This 5 day microcosm assay was comprised of C. reinhardtti, E. coli, D. magna, and D. rerio. We hypothesized that Cu and CuO NPs can elicit differential toxicity to the organisms due to alterations in particle dissolution and variations in organismal uptake. The actual concentrations of dissolved Cu released from the NPs were compared to ionic copper controls (CuCl2) at the same concentrations to determine the relative contribution of particulate and dissolved Cu on organism uptake and toxicity. We found that both NPs had higher uptake in D. magna and zebrafish than equivalent ionic exposures, suggesting that both Cu-based NPs are taken up by organisms. Cu NP exposures significantly inhibited algal growth rate, D. magna survival, and zebrafish hatching while exposure to equivalent concentrations of CuCl2 (dissolved Cu fraction) and CuO NPs did not. This indicates that Cu NPs themselves likely elicited a particle-specific mechanism of toxicity to the test organisms, or a combination effect from ionic Cu and the Cu NPs. Overall, this work was the first study to utilize a small-scale rapid assay designed to evaluate the fate and ecotoxicological impacts of Cu and CuO NPs in a mixed aquatic community.