Nanofiller Presence Enhances Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Profile on Nanoparticles Released during Thermal Decomposition of Nano-enabled Thermoplastics: Potential Environmental Health Implications

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Nano-enabled products are ultimately destined to reach end-of-life with an important fraction undergoing thermal degradation through waste incineration or accidental fires. Although previous studies have investigated the physicochemical properties of released lifecycle particulate matter (called LCPM) from thermal decomposition of nano-enabled thermoplastics, critical questions about the effect of nanofiller on the chemical composition of LCPM still persist. Here, we investigate the potential nanofiller effects on the profiles of 16 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-priority polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) adsorbed on LCPM from thermal decomposition of nano-enabled thermoplastics. We found that nanofiller presence in thermoplastics significantly enhances not only the total PAH concentration in LCPM but most importantly also the high molecular weight (HMW, 4-6 ring) PAHs that are considerably more toxic than the low molecular weight (LMW, 2-3 ring) PAHs. This nano-specific effect was also confirmed during in vitro cellular toxicological evaluation of LCPM for the case of polyurethane thermoplastic enabled with carbon nanotubes (PU-CNT). LCPM from PU-CNT shows significantly higher cytotoxicity compared to PU which could be attributed to its higher HMW PAH concentration. These findings are crucial and make the case that nanofiller presence in thermoplastics can significantly affect the physicochemical and toxicological properties of LCPM released during thermal decomposition.

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Environmental Science and Technology