Correlating Quantitative Measurements of Radical Production by Photocatalytic TiO2 with Daphnia magna Toxicity

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2021 May;40(5):1322-1334. doi: 10.1002/etc.4982. Epub 2021 Mar 10.


Increased use of titanium dioxide (TiO2 ) nanoparticles (NPs) in domestic and industrial applications has increased the risk for adverse environmental outcomes based on an elevated likelihood of organism exposure. Anatase TiO2 NP exposure to ultraviolet A (UV-A) radiation in aquatic environments generates radical oxygen species (ROS), which may ultimately be responsible for increased organism toxicity. We have identified and measured the 2 most relevant ROS species, hydroxyl and superoxide radicals, and described that ROS can be modeled using the highly reactive hydroxyl radical to provide an upper bound for toxicity. The TiO2 NPs were co-exposed to increasing natural organic matter (NOM) amounts (measured as concentration of dissolved organic carbon [DOC]) and simulated-sunlight UV-A intensities. Radical production rate was determined using fluorescence spectroscopy and was positively correlated with increases in TiO2 concentration and UV-A intensity, and negatively correlated with increased DOC concentration. Daphnia magna toxicity was also found to decrease with NOM addition, which is attributed to the decreased radical production rate with increased DOC concentrations. We demonstrate that the rate of ROS production from simulated-sunlight-irradiated TiO2 NPs can be quantified using relatively simple fluorescent techniques. We show that toxicity to TiO2 NP varies greatly with conditions, and that concentration alone is a poor predictor of toxicity. Describing toxicity/hydroxyl radical measurement may be a more accurate way to describe overall risk. We provide a framework for a simple model to describe toxicity/hydroxyl radical. These conclusions demonstrate the importance of considering exposure conditions as a means of risk management during TiO2 NP toxicity testing, waste management, and regulatory decisions. Environ Toxicol Chem 2021;40:1322-1334. © 2021 SETAC.

Keywords: Hydroxyl radical; Natural organic matter; Phototoxicity; Superoxide; TiO2 nanoparticles.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Daphnia*
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Titanium / toxicity
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • titanium dioxide
  • Titanium