Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are a new class of environmental pollutants. Researchers are beginning to debate whether new modeling paradigms and experimental tests to obtain model parameters are required for ENMs or if approaches for existing pollutants are robust enough to predict ENM distribution between environmental compartments.This Account outlines how experimental research can yield quantitative data for use in ENM fate and exposure models. We first review experimental testing approaches that are employed with ENMs. Then we compare and contrast ENMs against other pollutants. Finally, we summarize the findings and identify research needs that may yield global descriptors for ENMs that are suitable for use in fate and transport modeling.Over the past decade, researchers have made significant progress in understanding factors that influence the fate and transport of ENMs. In some cases, researchers have developed approaches toward global descriptor models (experimental, conceptual, and quantitative). We suggest the following global descriptors for ENMs: octanol-water partition coefficients, solid-water partition coefficients, attachment coefficients, and rate constants describing reactions such as dissolution, sedimentation, and degradation. ENMs appear to accumulate at the octanol-water interface and readily interact with other interfaces, such as lipid-water interfaces. Batch experiments to investigate factors that influence retention of ENMs on solid phases are very promising. However, ENMs probably do not behave in the same way as dissolved chemicals, and therefore, researchers need to use measurement techniques and concepts more commonly associated with colloids. Despite several years of research with ENMs in column studies, available summaries tend to discuss the effects of ionic strength, pH, organic matter, ENM type, packing media, or other parameters qualitatively rather than reporting quantitative values, such as attachment efficiencies, that would facilitate comparison across studies. Only a few structure-activity relationships have been developed for ENMs so far, but such evaluations will facilitate the understanding of the reactivities of different forms of a single ENM.The establishment of predictive capabilities for ENMs in the environment would enable accurate exposure assessments that would assist in ENM risk management. Such information is also critical for understanding the ultimate disposition of ENMs and may provide a framework for improved engineering of nanomaterials that are more environmentally benign.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)844-853
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of chemical research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 19 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Searching for global descriptors of engineered nanomaterial fate and transport in the environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this