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WatchNanos - Manufactured nano-plastics

Manufactured nano-plastics

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Manufactured nano-plastics

By AVICENN Team – Last Modified June 2022

Different types of nanoplastics

More and more plastic nanoparticles invade the grounds (after spreading the sludge from the treatment plants1Effective WWTPs with nanoplastics, The Morning, February 5, 2019 especially), rivers and oceans.

  • Some nanoplastics come from degradation of plastics (packaging, waste, etc.) into microparticles, which then break down into nanoparticles2See for example:-The slow fragmentation of plastics deciphered, Julienne Fanon, The Conversation, October 2019 –Tea bags Infusions with microplastics and nanoparticles, What to Choose, September 2019 –Plastic waste disintegrates into nanoparticles, study finds, Lund University, December 2018 and Nanoplastics formed during the mechanical breakdown of daily-use polystyrene products, Ekvall MT et al., Nanoscale Adv., 1: 1055-1061, 2019..
  • Other micro- and nano-plastics are intentionally incorporated into mixtures used by consumers or professionals3See in particular:
    - Nanofabrication: a response to the challenges of plastics processing and composites, L'Usine Nouvelle, August 16, 2022
    – The manufacture of nanoplastics, summarized in the video below as part of the European research program OPTINANO PRO (2015-2018), focused on the packaging, automotive and solar energy sectors (summary in French here). The 25 polymer products created were tested through to composting. Citizen question to document : what is to become of this fragmentation? Plastic nanoparticles containing nanoparticles?
    – Another European program MINANO completed in 2013 indicates the types of plastics incorporating nanoparticles: polypropylene (PP) for plastic nanocomposites and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for wood-plastic nanocomposites and polystyrene foam (for building insulation). The functionalized nanoparticles added are magnesium dihydroxide (MDH) Mg(OH)2, nano zinc oxide ZnO, and nanosilver.
    • in products cosmetics (microbeads used for their exfoliating properties – banned in France since 2018)
    • in detergents et cleaners
    • in paintings, coatings and building materials
    • in pharmaceutical products
    • in pesticides (fertilizer coatings for example, to release them gradually)
    • oil and gas sector

Cascading adverse effects?

Their rejection and diffusion in ecosystems lead to harmful effects in cascade but still insufficiently assessed, from aquatic fauna to other animals (including humans) that feed on them.4See Scallops suck up billions of plastic particles, National Geographic, December 5, 2018 Uptake, Whole-Body Distribution, and Depuration of Nanoplastics by the Scallop Pecten maximus at Environmentally Realistic Concentrations, Al-Sid-Sheikh M et al., IS, 52(24):14480-14486, 2018. And Scientific Colloquium 25 “Microplastics and nanoplastics in food and feed”, EFSA, June 2020.

Research is being carried out on the subject, in France5Among thirty-four projects selected by ANSES As part of the National Environment-Health-Work Research Program in 2020, the "Transplast" project aims to study the effects of micro-plastics and nano-plastics on the activity of membrane transporters of xenobiotics (it is coordinated by Mr. Fardel (IRSET/INSERM) and elsewhere6 See for example:
- The Mobility of Plastic Nanoparticles in Aqueous and Soil Environments: A Critical Review, Brewer A et al., ACS EST Water 2020
- Plastic pollution also threatens plants (and by the way, our food), Marcus Dupont-Besnard, June 23, 2020
-Differentially charged nanoplastics demonstrate distinct accumulation in Arabidopsis thaliana, Xiao-Dong Sun et al., Nature Nanotechnology, June 22 2020
- Micro- and nano-plastics in our environment: Understanding exposures and impacts on human health, Call H2020-SC1-BHC-2018-2020
- Focus on Nanoplastic, Nature NanotechnologyApril 2019
- Emergence of Nanoplastic in the Environment and Possible Impact on Human Health, Lehner R et al., About. Science. Technology. 2019
- Quantifying ecological risks of aquatic micro- and nanoplastic, Besseling E et al., Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology 2019
- Biological Effects and Implications of Micro- and Nanoplastics in the Aquatic Environment, Rist S, thesis, Technical University of Denmark, 2019
- Closing the gap between small and smaller: towards a framework to analyze nano- and microplastics in aqueous environmental samples, Mintenig, SM et al., About. Science: Nano,5: 1640-1649, 2018
- Nanoplastics in the Aquatic Environment, Mattsson K et al., in Microplastic Contamination in Aquatic Environments – An Emerging Matter of Environmental Urgency, 379-399, 2018
- Ingestion of micro- and nanoplastics in Daphnia magna – Quantification of body burdens and assessment of feeding rates and reproduction, Rist S et al., environmental pollution, 228: 398-407, September 2017
to assess their effects on the environment (eco-toxicity), but also their role in the dissemination of other pollutants that cling to their surface7See for example Transport of micro- and nanoplastics in the environment: Trojan-Horse effect for organic contaminants, Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 52 (5), 2022 (we speak of the "Trojan horse" effect) and in the occurrence of "cocktail effects" triggered by the association with other nanoparticles or undesirable substances8See for example:
- Nanoplastics enhance the toxic effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticle in freshwater algae Scenedesmus obliquus, Das S et al., Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology, 256, June 2022
- Are gold nanoparticles and microplastics mixtures more toxic to the marine microalgae Tetraselmis chuii than the substances individually?, Davarpanah E, Guilhermino L, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, 181: 60-68, October 2019

Micro vs nano: a framework that is debating

In January 2019, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposed to restrict some of these micro- and nano-plastics intentionally integrated by manufacturers9Cf: ECHA proposes to restrict intentionally added microplastics, ECHA, 30 January 2019; ANNEX XV RESTRICTION REPORT – PROPOSAL FOR A RESTRICTION- intentionally added microplastics, ECHA, January 2019: "'microplastic' means a material consisting of solid polymercontaining particles, to which additives or other substances may have been added, and where ≥ 1% w/w of particles have (i) all dimensions 1nm ≤ x ≤ 5mm, or (ii) , for fibres, a length of 3nm ≤ x ≤ 15mm and length to diameter ratio of >3”. But in June 2020, following industry lobbying, ECHA removed nanoplastics from its proposed restriction, sparking outrage from NGOs, including the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).10On September 1, 2020, the NGO European Environmental Bureau (EEB) alert on the lobbying of manufacturers who made the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) back down in its plan to restrict microplastics intentionally added to many products (detergents, paints and inks, construction materials, medicines and fertilizers): included in the initial project, plastic nanoparticles were withdrawn from the project presented in June by ECHA. In the article  "Microplastics: lobbying at the frontiers of the tiny" published the same day in Le Monde, the journalist Stéphane Horel relays the work of the BEE which shows how the chemical industries and their federations (CEFIC, PlasticsEurope), by advocating self-regulation, have managed to increase the size from 1 to 100 nanometers plastic particles affected by the restriction measures envisaged by ECHA. Microplastics would thus be prohibited, but not nanoplastics, whereas these nanoparticles are “both more toxic and more easily absorbed by living cells” underlined the BEE. who fears that manufacturers will substitute nanoplastics for microplastics once the regulations come into force.

In one report published on November 16, 2020, by environmental NGOs mobilized at European level to reduce microplastic pollution, led by Rethink Plastic, the European Environmental Bureau (BEE), Earth client et Break free from Plastic reiterated their fears and recommended reinstating nanoplastics in the microplastics restriction plan as originally proposed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), restricting particles smaller than 5 mm, with no lower limit of size. The objective is toavoid “absurd” substitution of prohibited microplastics with nanoplastics that would not be affected by the restriction currently being defined ; it is a question of avoiding increased pollution due to their diffusion in the environment11The road to an effective EU restriction of intentionally-added microplastics, Rethink Plastic, the European Environmental Bureau (BEE), Earth client et Break free from Plastic, November 16, 2020 (p.15) – especially since it is technically possible to measure plastic particles of nanometric size12See for example:
- Symposium 'Challenges of microplastic analysis – Bridging state of the art and policy needs', JRC, September 9, 2021
- Characterizing microplastics in marine environments: LNE involved in the MOUSTIC project, LNE, February 12, 2021 (partnership LNE – Jean Rouxel Institute of Materials (IMN) – ANSES food safety laboratory (Boulogne-sur-Mer site) – INRAE ​​(BIA unit)).
- Measuring particle size distribution and mass concentration of nanoplastics and microplastics: addressing some analytical challenges in the sub-micron size range », Caputo F et al., Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, 401-417, April 2021.
– Georges Favre, director of the LNE Nanotech Institute, on LinkedIn, January 25, 2021: “ES-SMPS can also be a good option in this aim by providing number concentration and a size range from a few nm to 500 nm. Work to develop an ISO standard on this analytical approach will start in an early future”

The final version of ECHA was made public December 202013See Scientific committees: EU-wide restriction best way to reduce microplastic pollution, ECHA, 9 December 2020 and Final Background Document to the Opinion on the Annex XV report proposing restrictions on intentionally added microplastics, ECHA, December 2020 and forwarded to the Commission for it to formulate its proposal.
But the latter is still not published... whereas it should have been more than a year ago now, in May 2021. After the indignation expressed in November 202114See Delay in proposed microplastics restriction leading to irreversible pollution, EEB, 25 November 2021 and again in May 2022 by European NGOs in the face of Brussels' inertia15See EU's detox pledge sabotaged by illegal delay to microplastics regulation, BSE & ClientEarth, June 1, 2022, the Commission assured that it would publish its restriction proposal very soon16See Delay in EU microplastics restriction proposal is illegal, say NGOs, Chemical Watch, June 1, 2022 and EU executive promises microplastics restrictions after accusation of 'illegal delay', ENDS Europe, June 2, 2022. It will then have to be submitted to the vote of the Member States of the European Union within the REACH committee and then examined by the Council and the European Parliament.

Pending a harmonized definition, groups of experts such as the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) define nanoplastics as extremely small plastic fragments whose size is less than 1 μm (GESAMP, 2019)17See The 2021 FAO report: FAO. 2021. Assessment of agricultural plastics and their sustainability. A call for action. Rome.

What research on the subject?

In August 2019, following the publication of a analysis of the state of research on microplastics in drinking water, the World Health Organization (WHO) had called for strengthening research on micro- and nanoplastics and taking strong action against plastic pollution18See WHO calls for stronger research on microplastics and strong action against plastic pollution, WHO, August 22, 2019.

ANSES announced at the end of 2021 that it would finance four projects on the study of micro and nanoplastics as part of its National Environment-Health-Work Research Program (PNR EST).

At European level, the program PlasticFate (2021-2025) studies the risks of micro- and nano-plastics for human health.

To be continued!

What recommendations?

In August 2020, a report19See Global Summit on Regulatory Science 2019 Nanotechnology and Nanoplastics, JRC & GCRSR, Publications Office of the European Union, 2020 from the Joint Research Center (JRC) and the Global Coalition for Regulatory Science Research (GCRSR) has been published ; it summarizes the exchanges of a conference on the subject of nanoplastics which in 2019 brought together nearly 200 actors from 36 different countries. Among the recommendations made:

  • a coordinated effort on terminology, definitions, sampling, characterization and hazard and exposure assessment of nanoplastics to produce reference materials, as well as “robust” standards, guidance and regulations
  • an information and exchange platform on nano- and microplastics
  • collaboration between stakeholders, development of trust through data transparency20Among other more general recommendations:
    -an increase in efforts to guarantee that tests concerning nanomaterials, and especially those used in nanomedicine, are rigorous, reproducible and comparable between samples and situations, throughout the development chain
    – harmonization of methods, standards and reference materials
    – the intensification of ongoing international efforts to deal with the potential dangers of nanomaterials for health and the environment
    -the development of collaborations and continuous communication on scientific research in the regulation of nanomaterials, as well as the appropriate harmonization of legal and regulatory structures.

NB: In cosmetics, alternatives exist to obtain the desired exfoliating effect: ground almonds, coconut shells or crushed olive stones, for example.

Elsewhere on the web

In French :

In English :

A remark, a question? This sheet produced by AVICENN is intended to be supplemented and updated. Please feel free to contribute.

The next nano appointments

“Nano and Health” dialogue committee (ANSES, Maisons-Alfort)
Dialogue Committee
  • 14th meeting of the “nano and health” dialogue committee
  • Organizer: ANSES
  • Website :
Nanomaterials, how to identify them more efficiently? (LNE, Paris)
  • Technical Day
  • Organizer: National Metrology and Testing Laboratory (LNE)
  • On the agenda: identification of nanomaterials, recent technological innovations in terms of particle size characterization, areas for progress to be considered 
  • Upcoming program
  • Website :…
NanoSafe conference 2023 (CEA, Grenoble)
  • 8th International Conference on Health Issues for a Responsible Approach to Nanomaterials
  • June 5-9, 2023
  • Organizer: Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA)
  • Website :…  

This listing was originally created in February 2019

Notes & references

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