Environmental fate, toxicity and risk management strategies of nanoplastics in the environment: Current status and future perspectives

Liuwei Wang, Wei Min Wu, Nanthi S. Bolan, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Yang Li, Muhan Qin, Deyi Hou

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

296 Citations (Scopus)


Tiny plastic particles considered as emerging contaminants have attracted considerable interest in the last few years. Mechanical abrasion, photochemical oxidation and biological degradation of larger plastic debris result in the formation of microplastics (MPs, 1 μm to 5 mm) and nanoplastics (NPs, 1 nm to 1000 nm). Compared with MPs, the environmental fate, ecosystem toxicity and potential risks associated with NPs have so far been less explored. This review provides a state-of-the-art overview of current research on NPs with focus on currently less-investigated fields, such as the environmental fate in agroecosystems, migration in porous media, weathering, and toxic effects on plants. The co-transport of NPs with organic contaminants and heavy metals threaten human health and ecosystems. Furthermore, NPs may serve as a novel habitat for microbial colonization, and may act as carriers for pathogens (i.e., bacteria and viruses). An integrated framework is proposed to better understand the interrelationships between NPs, ecosystems and the human society. In order to fully understand the sources and sinks of NPs, more studies should focus on the total environment, including freshwater, ocean, groundwater, soil and air, and more attempts should be made to explore the aging and aggregation of NPs in environmentally relevant conditions. Considering the fact that naturally-weathered plastic debris may have distinct physicochemical characteristics, future studies should explore the environmental behavior of naturally-aged NPs rather than synthetic polystyrene nanobeads.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123415
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021


  • Contaminant migration
  • Environmental remediation
  • Plastic pollution
  • Risk management
  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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