The Safety of Nanotechnology in Fisheries and Aquaculture
Submitting InstitutionPlymouth University
Unit of AssessmentAgriculture, Veterinary and Food Science
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Research on the environmental safety and toxicity of nanomaterials in fishes has had a global
impact across both government and industry contributing to:
(i) Consensus building on biological effects allowing regulatory agencies/governments to
make proper decisions on the hazard of nanomaterials to farmed fish and wildlife.
(ii) Critical evaluation of the internationally agreed process of toxicity testing to determine
whether the current legislative test methods are fit for purpose and acceptable to the
(iii) Identification of national/international research priorities and policies via work with the
OECD and the US Government.
(iv) Influencing government policy to support training and information for industry.
The research programme underpinning this case study has focussed on `fact finding' on
nanoparticle toxicity (hazard assessment), the fundamental biological mechanisms involved, and
especially on reporting `no effect data' (negative results), so that regulators and Government(s) can
determine safe/allowable levels of nanomaterials in the environment. This team led by Professor
Richard Handy has been supported by several NERC grants, EU FP7 projects (NanoImpactNet,
MARINA), an RCUK Fellowship (Henry, 2008-2013), and studentships from NERC (Ramsden,
2009-2012) and the Iraq Ministry for Higher Education (Al-Bairuty, Al-Jubory 2009-2013). Key post-doctoral
staff included Boyle (2009-2012) and Shaw (2006-present, currently on EU FP7 MARINA).
The research includes first reports on changes in locomotion/behaviour and brain injury (Boyle
et al., 2012; Al-Bairuty et al., 2012), the first proper dietary uptake study in fishes (Ramsden et al.,
2009), reports of no effect levels for dietary exposure (Fraser et al., 2010), and experiments
comparing the toxicity of nano-forms of metals with dissolved metals (Shaw et al., 2012). The latter
two issues are especially important. The absence of effects is sometimes not considered
academically interesting, but such information is absolutely vital for establishing safe levels in the
environment/food chain. Comparisons with existing substances (dissolved metals) are also critical
for regulatory decision making in order to know whether nanomaterials can be captured by existing
legislation or require policy development.
Our research set out hypotheses on bioavailability/absorption mechanisms (Handy et al.,
2008b) and tested these experimentally, including the first paper on titanium dioxide absorption
across the gut (Al-Jubory and Handy, 2012). Together the findings provide a rational basis for
considering key triggers in environmental risk assessment such as persistence and
bioaccumulation potential. They also provide information on the human health risk (e.g., brain
injury), and on food chain hazards to humans through agricultural usage.
Our dietary exposure studies have shown that fish will readily eat food containing
nanomaterials and will grow normally (a manageable hazard for the aquaculture industry), and
most nanomaterials so far tested do not accumulate in the edible muscle, meaning a low risk of
exposure for humans eating fish. In the previous absence of approved methods for detecting
nanomaterials in fish/shellfish our research has developed new methods for routine use in the food
and agriculture industries (Patent application No: 1207745.9, May 2012 for the detection of TiO2).
One major obstacle to the safe, responsible innovation of nanotechnology in agriculture is the
validation of regulatory tests; without these tests companies cannot register their nano-products in
the EU or USA. Our research has worked on validating individual regulatory ecotoxicity tests,
providing the evidence base and recommendations for altering the overarching testing strategy in
Europe, and has provided the tools that Government(s)/industry urgently need for risk assessment.
We have led several international working groups on test methods for nanoparticles (Handy et al.,
2012a; 2012b), identified conceptual flaws in current bioaccumulation tests (Handy et al., 2012a),
and provided a critique of terrestrial tests that support agricultural usage. We have identified that
most of the current agrifood testing protocols need modifications to work with nanomaterials. We
continue to address these issues in Europe.
References to the research
(Plymouth authors in bold)
1. Boyle, D., Al-Bairuty, G. A., Ramsden, C. S., Sloman, K. A., Henry, T. B. and Handy, R. D.
(2013) Subtle alterations in swimming speed distributions of rainbow trout exposed to
titanium dioxide nanoparticles are associated with gill rather than brain injury. Aquatic
Toxicology, 126, 116- 127.
Impact factor, 4.225; 3/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
2. Al-Jubory, A. R. and Handy, R. D. (2012) Uptake of titanium from TiO2 nanoparticle exposure
in the isolated perfused intestine of rainbow trout: nystatin, vanadate, and novel CO2-sensitive
components. Nanotoxicology, in press (posted online Oct. 2012).
Impact factor 7.84; 13/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
3. Shaw, B. J., Al-Bairuty, G. and Handy, R. D. (2012) Effects of waterborne copper
nanoparticles and copper sulphate on rainbow trout, (Oncorhynchus mykiss): Physiology
and accumulation. Aquatic Toxicology, 116-117, 90-101.
Impact factor, 4.225; 3/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
4. Fraser, T. W. K., Reinardy, H. C., Shaw, B. J., Henry, T. B., Handy, R. D. (2011) Dietary
toxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes and fullerenes (C60) in rainbow trout
(Oncorhynchus mykiss). Nanotoxicology, 5 (1), 98-108.
Impact factor 7.84; 13/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
5. Ramsden, C. S., Smith, T. J., Shaw, B. J., and Handy, R. D. (2009) Dietary exposure to
titanium dioxide nanoparticles in rainbow trout, (Oncorhynchus mykiss): No effect on
growth, but subtle biochemical disturbances in the brain. Ecotoxicology: 18, 939-951.
Impact factor 3.185; 10/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
6. Handy, R. D., Cornelis, G., Fernandes, T., Tsyusko, O., Decho, A., Sabo-Attwood, T., Metcalfe,
C., Steevens, J. A., Klaine, S. J., Koelmans, A. A. and Horne, N. (2012a) Ecotoxicity test
methods for engineered nanomaterials: practical experiences and recommendations from
the bench. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry, 31, 15-31.
Impact factor 2.847; 5/94 in the SJR ranking of all toxicology journals.
Details of the impact
The impact of our research since 2008 has been to highlight the hazards built on the substantial
impact that had become apparent from 2006 and the effect of using the emergent technology of
nano-ecotoxicology in agricultural systems. Prior to 2006 there was no cohesive international effort
on the environmental hazards of nanomaterials. Our impact has been to help establish a new
scientific community on nano-ecotoxicology/chemistry involving government, industry, consultancy
and academia; building and developing a consensus view on hazard, fate, and effects. An early
consensus report was deliberately published independently, i.e., not from any one governmental
regulatory agency or industry, as an unbiased view from the grass-roots scientific community.
Through our invitation by the Office of the President of the United States to act as an external
advisor to the US National Nanoscience (NNI) funding initiative, we were able to influence the
European Commission in establishing the NanoSafety Cluster, and Handy was instrumental in
setting up the US-EU ``cores of research' aimed at international data sharing. A further consensus
report involving the SETAC Nano-advisory group was published in 2012.
As a result of these seminal reports and the emergence of the new scientific discipline of nano-ecotoxicology,
we were invited to prepare a report for DEFRA on test methods for nanomaterials
that set out the validation problems around testing nanomaterials. This showed that the UK/EU
hazard assessment strategy urgently needed modification, and was subsequently used by DEFRA
to argue the case for testing strategies with the EU Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials
(WPMN). As a result, the international community has agreed that there is a problem with testing
methods and an international sponsorship programme of testing by the OECD was commissioned
involving members of the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO).Our impact has
included OECD guidance documents. This reported in 2012. In the UK, this work and a paper by
Owen and Handy (2007) raised nanoscience as a priority research funding issue; leading to a
National Nanoscience call from NERC led by Owen, and with Handy on the UK task force.
Subsequently, the testing method issues were included in the Framework 7 call in Europe. Our
research and consensus-building report was used in a 2010 Report by the Australian Department
of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts;. and in Reports from the Royal Commission on
Environmental Pollution (2008),) and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee
The regulatory testing activities that have emerged from this work are directed at Governments
across the EU and North America who are required to implement the regulatory process enabling
the registration of new products, and industry now has official guidance on how to collect data to
support their product registrations. This is an absolute requirement as registration of new products
(such as nano crop protection products) cannot proceed without the appropriate testing dossier.
Specifically, our research and testing methods have been used in a Report by the Dutch Food and
Environmental Safety Agency (2009) and in official guidance documents on test methods from the
OECD, and our expertise has led to our direct involvement in writing regulatory guidelines (OECD,
2010; 2012). These documents are shared in the US by ISO, and so the impact of our knowledge
is global across both government and industry. This application of our technical knowledge is on-going
at the OECD, and we are providing technical advice to several sub-committees (SG3, SG7)
and on specific materials (OECD programme for TiO2). The above regulatory activities disseminate
information to industry through WPMN documents from the OECD, and from our reports to DEFRA
locally in the UK.
One concern identified by us was a UK/EU skills shortage to support industrial growth of the
agri-food/chemicals nanotechnology sectors and we were commissioned by DEFRA to write a
report on the skills gap (Handy et al., 2009). This has had a wide impact on training policy in the
UK. Our findings were presented to the Science Minister (David Willets MP) at the Department of
Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) meeting on 11th May 2011, and then in a closed meeting with
the Chief Scientist's Committee. Evidence on hazards has also been presented to the UK
Government, House of Commons, Science and Technology Committee with respect to food safety
(via Prof Stephen Holgate). This further informed discussions with DEFRA on training and the Life
Science Action Plan in the UK, so that training in nanoscience is now included (ACHS, 2011).
Our research also had impact with DEFRA's Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances,
where we contributed evidence to decisions on allowing the granting of authorisation for the first
commercial use of nano products for aquaculture in the UK. Our research also continues to be
used more widely in providing advice relevant to the fishing industry's use of nutrients.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Use of our consensus building reports and primary research for setting the opinion of the
Australian agency responsible for environmental protection (Note Handy et al 2012a above is also
a consensus report involving the SETAC Nano-advisory group):
G.E. Batley and M.J. McLaughlin (2010) Fate of Manufactured Nanomaterials in the
Australian Environment. CSIRO Niche Manufacturing Flagship Report, March 2010,
Prepared for the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, CSIRO,
Australia. Available at:
Technical documents on test methods and how to make them work for nanomaterials that
provide advice to Governments and to the European Commission, and is the guidance document
that industry will follow:
a. An Assessment of Regulatory Testing Strategies and Methods for Characterizing the
Ecotoxicological Hazards of Nanomaterials. Final Report DOI: 10.1007/s10646-008-0215-z,
Defra, London, UK. Available at:
of regulatory impact at national level]
b. OECD (2012) Guidance on sample preparation and dosimetry for the safety testing of
manufactured nanomaterials. OECD Environment, Health and Safety Publications Series
on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials, No. 36, ENV/JM/MONO(2012)40, 18th
December 2012, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris.
[evidence of regulatory impact at international level]
Use of our research data in House of Lords report on food safety:
House of Lords (2010) Science and Technology Committee, 1st Report of Session 2009-
10. Nanotechnologies and Food. Volume I: Report published by the Authority of the House
of Lords. Available at:
Use of our data by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution:
Lawton (2008) Novel Materials in the Environment: The case of nanotechnology.
Presented to Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, November 2008. Available at:
Use of our data on hazard and testing policy for agriculture/food security by the Food and
Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation, and by the Dutch Food and Environmental
Safety Agency, RIVM:
a. FAO (2009) FAO/WHO Expert Meeting on the Application of Nanotechnologies in the
Food and Agriculture Sectors: Potential Food Safety Implications. FAO and WHO
press, Rome. Available at:
b. RIVM (2009) Nanotechnology in perspective. Risks to man and the environment
Editors: M. van Zijverden and A.J.A.M. Sips Report 601785003/2009. Available at:
Use of our data by the Woodrow Wilson Centre in the USA (an NGO):
Luoma, S. (2008) Silver nanotechnologies and the environment. Old problems or new
challenges. Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars. Available at:
Use of our test method report and consensus reviews by the US Environmental Protection
US EPA (2009) International Perspectives on Environmental Nanotechnology -
Applications and Implications (EPA 905/R-09/032 November 2009). Available at:
Evidence of dissemination and impact on training needs and skills gaps at national level.
Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances (ACHS) Fifteenth Annual Report 2011.
Defra, United Kingdom. http://www.defra.gov.uk/achs/files/Annual-report-2011_final.pdf
Note, this reference is evidence of use/impact of the following report: Handy, R. D.,
Maycock, D. and Jha, A. N. (2009) An Evaluation of the UK Skills Base for Toxicologists
and Ecotoxicologists, with Focus on Current and Future Requirements, Particularly with
Regard to the Skills Required for the Hazard Assessment of Chemical Substances
including Nanomaterials. Peer reviewed report to Defra. Available at: