Metal oxide nanoparticles, among them copper oxide nanoparticles (CuO NPs), are widely used in different applications (e.g. batteries, gas sensors, superconductors, plastics and metallic coatings), increasing their potential release in the environment. In aquatic matrix, the behavior of CuO NPs may strongly change, depending on their surface charge and some physical-chemical characteristics of the medium (e.g. ionic strength, salinity, pH and natural organic matter content). Ecotoxicity of CuO NPs to aquatic organisms was mainly studied on freshwater species, few tests being performed on marine biota. The aim of this study was to assess the toxicity of CuO NPs on suitable indicator species, belonging to the ecologically relevant level of consumers. The selected bioassays use reference protocols to identify Effect/Lethal Concentrations (E(L)C), by assessing lethal and sub-lethal endpoints. Mortality tests were performed on rotifer (Brachionus plicatilis), shrimp (Artemia franciscana) and copepod (Tigriopus fulvus). While moult release failure and fertilization rate were studied, as sub-lethal endpoints, on T. fulvus and sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), respectively. The size distribution and sedimentation rates of CuO NPs, together with the copper dissolution, were also analyzed in the exposure media. The CuO NP ecotoxicity assessment showed a concentration-dependent response for all species, indicating similar mortality for B. plicatilis (48hLC50 = 16.94 ± 2.68mg/l) and T. fulvus (96hLC50 = 12.35 ± 0.48mg/l), followed by A. franciscana (48hLC50 = 64.55 ± 3.54mg/l). Comparable EC50 values were also obtained for the sub-lethal endpoints in P. lividus (EC50 = 2.28 ± 0.06mg/l) and T. fulvus (EC50 = 2.38 ± 0.20mg/l). Copper salts showed higher toxicity than CuO NPs for all species, with common sensitivity trend as follows: P. lividus ≥ T. fulvus (sublethal endpoint) ≥ B. plicatilis >T. fulvus (lethal endpoint) >A. franciscana. CuO NP micrometric aggregates and high sedimentation rates were observed in the exposure media, with different particle size distributions depending on the medium. The copper dissolution was about 0.16% of the initial concentration, comparable to literature values. The integrated ecotoxicological-physicochemical approach was used to better describe CuO NP toxicity and behavior. In particular, the successful application of ecotoxicological reference protocols allowed to produce reliable L(E)C data useful to identify thresholds and assess potential environmental hazard due to NPs.
Keywords: Copepod; Nanomaterial toxicity; Nanoparticle behavior; Rotifer; Sea urchin; Shrimp.
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