Ecotoxicity screening of seven different types of commercial silica nanoparticles using cellular and organismic assays: Importance of surface and size

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We show that seven different types of commercial, biocide-free, colloidal silica products with mean particle sizes between 17 and 88 nm with 3 different surface chemistries (Na-stabilized, aluminized and silane-modified) are not toxic to the bacterium Pseudomonas putida, and the algae Raphidocelis subcapitata in the concentration range 5–500 mg/L. They are also not acutely toxic to Daphnia magna at concentrations up to 10,000 mg/L. Six silica particles are toxic to the gill cell line RTgill-W1 from Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), showing a clear concentration-response relationship with EC50 values between 13 and 92 mg/L. Toxicity in the fish cells decreases with increasing hydrodynamic size and is dependent on particle surface area. The average EC50 across the tested particles is 2.1 (±0.3) m2/L. Surface modifications clearly impact toxicity, with silane-modified particles showing no cytotoxicity. The reduced number of free silanol groups on the surface of the silane modified particle, in combination with an increased steric hindrance that prevents contact with the cells is a possible mechanism for the observed lack of toxicity. This is also in line with previous studies on silica nanoparticles in human toxicology. Overall, these findings show a generally low ecotoxicity of silica nanoparticles and indicate that silica particles of different sizes but identical surface chemistry could potentially be grouped into an assessment group under regulation such as REACH.


  • Frida Book
  • Mikael T. Ekvall
  • Michael Persson
  • Sara Lönnerud
  • Tobias Lammel
  • Joachim Sturve
  • Thomas Backhaus
External organisations
  • University of Gothenburg
  • Nouryon Sweden
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Management
  • Nano Technology


  • Algae, Bacteria, Colloidal nanoparticles, Concentration-response, Daphnia, Exposure metric, Fish cell line, Surface modification
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-111
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch