A toxicologic review of quantum dots: toxicity depends on physicochemical and environmental factors

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Feb;114(2):165-72. doi: 10.1289/ehp.8284.


As a growing applied science, nanotechnology has considerable global socioeconomic value, and the benefits afforded by nanoscale materials and processes are expected to have significant impacts on almost all industries and all areas of society. A diverse array of engineered nanoscale products and processes have emerged [e.g., carbon nanotubes, fullerene derivatives, and quantum dots (QDs)], with widespread applications in fields such as medicine, plastics, energy, electronics, and aerospace. With the nanotechnology economy estimated to be valued at dollar 1 trillion by 2012, the prevalence of these materials in society will be increasing, as will the likelihood of exposures. Importantly, the vastness and novelty of the nanotechnology frontier leave many areas unexplored, or underexplored, such as the potential adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to novel nanomaterials. It is within this context that the need for understanding the potentially harmful side effects of these materials becomes clear. The reviewed literature suggests several key points: Not all QDs are alike; engineered QDs cannot be considered a uniform group of substances. QD absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity depend on multiple factors derived from both inherent physicochemical properties and environmental conditions; QD size, charge, concentration, outer coating bioactivity (capping material and functional groups), and oxidative, photolytic, and mechanical stability have each been implicated as determining factors in QD toxicity. Although they offer potentially invaluable societal benefits such as drug targeting and in vivo biomedical imaging, QDs may also pose risks to human health and the environment under certain conditions. Key words: environment, human health, nanomaterials, nanosized particles, nanotechnology, nanotoxicology, quantum dots, toxicology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Health*
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Particle Size
  • Quantum Dots*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Toxicology


  • Environmental Pollutants