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Novel approach estimates nanoparticles in environment
Date:5/20/2009

DURHAM, N.C. Without knowing how much of an industrial chemical is being produced, it is almost impossible for scientists to determine if it poses any threat to the environment or human health.

Civil engineers at Duke University believe they have come up with a novel way of estimating how much of one such material titanium dioxide is being generated, laying the groundwork for future studies to assess any possible risks.

This information is especially valuable if the chemicals are in the form of nano-particles, which possess unique properties because of their miniscule size. Nanoparticles are attractive for a wide range of products, little is known about their consequences in the environment. One of the most widely used is the nanoparticle form of titanium dioxide, which can be found in such diverse products as sunscreens and toothpaste to paints and papers. It is also used in water treatment.

"The biggest problem we face in trying to determine any risks of titanium dioxide nanoparticles is that no one really knows how much of it there is," said Christine Robichaud, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. The results of her analysis were published online in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.

Robichaud found it especially difficult trying to collect this data, since the companies that process titanium dioxide were not willing to reveal information they deemed proprietary. So she used a novel approach developed by collaborators Lynne Zucker and Michael Darby at the University of California Los Angeles to estimate the rate of innovation in the biotechnology industry.

"We combined science and engineering knowledge with business and economic modeling to come up with what we think is the maximum amount of titanium dioxide nanoparticles out there," Robichaud said. "By taking the amount of bulk titanium dioxide produced, which is better underst
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Contact: Richard Merritt
richard.merritt@duke.edu
91-906-608-414
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert  

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