Comparative toxicity of nano-scale TiO2, SiO2 and ZnO water suspensions

Water Sci Technol. 2006;54(11-12):327-34. doi: 10.2166/wst.2006.891.


TiO2, SiO2 and ZnO are common additives with improved applications at the nanoscale. The antibacterial activity of TiO2, which has important ecosystem health implications, is well understood. However, less attention has been paid to the antibacterial activity of SiO2 and ZnO despite them also producing reactive oxygen species. This paper explores the relative toxicity of TiO2, SiO2 and ZnO water suspensions towards bacteria (B. subtilis, E. coli) and the eukaryotic Daphnia magna. These three photosensitive nanomaterials were hazardous to all test organisms, with toxicity increasing with particle concentration. Toxicity of the three compounds decreased from ZnO to TiO2 to SiO2 and Daphnia were most susceptible to their effects. Nominal particle size did not affect the toxicity of these compounds. Antibacterial activity was noted under both dark and light conditions indicating that mechanisms additional to ROS production were responsible for growth inhibition. These results highlight the need for caution during the use and disposal of such manufactured nanomaterials to prevent unintended environmental impacts, as well as the importance of further research on the mechanisms and factors that increase toxicity to enhance risk management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects
  • Daphnia / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Nanoparticles
  • Particle Size
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Silicon Dioxide / toxicity*
  • Titanium / toxicity*
  • Water / analysis*
  • Zinc Oxide / toxicity*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Water
  • titanium dioxide
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Titanium
  • Zinc Oxide