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Understanding the Transformation, Speciation, and Hazard Potential of Copper Particles in a Model Septic Tank System Using Zebrafish to Monitor the Effluent

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Although copper-containing nanoparticles are used in commercial products such as fungicides and bactericides, we presently do not understand the environmental impact on other organisms that may be inadvertently exposed. In this study, we used the zebrafish embryo as a screening tool to study the potential impact of two nano Cu-based materials, CuPRO and Kocide, in comparison to nanosized and micron-sized Cu and CuO particles in their pristine form (0-10 ppm) as well as following their transformation in an experimental wastewater treatment system. This was accomplished by construction of a modeled domestic septic tank system from which effluents could be retrieved at different stages following particle introduction (10 ppm). The Cu speciation in the effluent was identified as nondissolvable inorganic Cu(H2PO2)2 and nondiffusible organic Cu by X-ray diffraction, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), diffusive gradients in thin-films (DGT), and Visual MINTEQ software. While the nanoscale materials, including the commercial particles, were clearly more potent (showing 50% hatching interference above 0.5 ppm) than the micron-scale particulates with no effect on hatching up to 10 ppm, the Cu released from the particles in the septic tank underwent transformation into nonbioavailable species that failed to interfere with the function of the zebrafish embryo hatching enzyme. Moreover, we demonstrate that the addition of humic acid, as an organic carbon component, could lead to a dose-dependent decrease in Cu toxicity in our high content zebrafish embryo screening assay. Thus, the use of zebrafish embryo screening, in combination with the effluents obtained from a modeled exposure environment, enables a bioassay approach to follow the change in the speciation and hazard potential of Cu particles instead of difficult-to-perform direct particle tracking.

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