Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Environmental Toxicology


Arai, Yuji

Committee Member

Carraway , Elizabeth

Committee Member

Bain , Lisa


Due to the rise of nanotechnology in industry, the concentrations of engineered metal oxide nanoparticles being released to the environment are increasing daily. Cerium-based compounds such as nanoparticulate ceria (NP CeO2) have received much attention in the last several years due to their popular applications (e.g., mischmetal, pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology) in industrial and commercial uses. Like many emerging pollutants, NP CeO2 is often released to the environment, where its toxicological effects are not well known. Though several environmental exposure pathways have been identified for CeO2 NPs, a major route of NP introduction to the environment is via biosolids application to agricultural lands. Thus, concerns about the release of NP CeO2 and its impact on ecosystem health have stimulated many recent toxicological studies. Recent investigations have uncovered the effect of NP CeO2 at cellular levels showing both protection of cells and severe cellular damage depending on pH, particle size, concentration, and aggregation state. Yet, the toxicological information of NP CeO2 to aquatic and terrestrial biota remains largely unknown. The studies presented in this thesis identify the impact of NP CeO2 on soil denitrifying microbial communities and reveal that physical and chemical characteristics including particle size, speciation, concentration, pH, and presence of ligands are key to predicting environmental fate and reactivity of NP CeO2 in the soil.
A review of the literature in Chapter 1 revealed a widespread lack of toxicological information for soil exposures to NP CeO2. Soil denitrifying bacteria are a keystone species because they serve an important role in the global nitrogen cycle controlling the atmospheric nitrogen input. Soil denitrifiers are important to this study because the reducing conditions during denitrification could induce phase transformation of Ce(IV) to Ce(III), potentially influencing the toxicity of Ce. Cerium is well known for being the only lanthanide that is thermodynamically stable in both the trivalent and tetravalent state in low temperature geochemical environments. Using well characterized NP Ce(IV)O2 as well as bulk soluble Ce(III), batch denitrification experiments were conducted to evaluate the toxicity of Ce species to the denitrifying community in a Toccoa sandy loam soil. The statistical analysis on the antimicrobial effect on soil denitrifiers was conducted using both steady-state evaluation and zero-order kinetic models in order to compare the toxicity of the Ce(III) species to the NPs. These studies, presented in Chapter 3, show that soluble Ce(III) is far more toxic than Ce(IV)O2 NPs when an equal total concentration of Ce is used, though both species exhibit toxicity to the denitrifiers via statistically significant inhibition of soil denitrification processes. Particle-size dependent toxicity, species-dependent toxicity, and concentration-dependent toxicity were all observed in this study for both the steady-state and the kinetic evaluations.
The possibility of toxicity enhancement and diminishment via dissolution and ligand complexation pathways was investigated thoroughly in Chapter 2. In addition to the equilibrium and kinetic-based toxicological assessments presented in Chapter 1, dissolution and sorption experiments were performed to gain an overall understanding of Ce biogeochemistry in the terrestrial environment post-release and reveal possible geochemical controls on toxicity. It was shown that dissolution of bioavailable Ce is pH-dependent; dissolution is only detectable at acidic pH values (< pH 5) and increases with increasing acidity. Dissolution of Ce from NP CeO2 was identified to be almost 100% Ce(III). It was also demonstrated that this dissolution is suppressed by the addition of phosphate ligand, which is largely bioavailable in soils, especially in agricultural lands. This suppression was explained by the strong sorption of phosphate ligand to NP CeO2. The elimination of bioavailable Ce(III) release from NP CeO2 by phosphate ligand is likely one of the most important controls on toxicity effects and should be a large consideration in determining the fate and transport of NP CeO2 in the aquatic and terrestrial environment. It was also demonstrated that both Ce(III) and NP CeO2 have extremely strong affinity for sorption to soil matter, which could serve as another controlling pathway. Experiments indicated that factors such as reductive transformation of NP CeO2 in soils and exchangeable Ce(III) impurity in the NPs could contribute to controls on toxicity as well.
In conclusion, the studies presented in this thesis indicate that the toxicity effects of the studied Ce species to soil denitrifiers are strongly affected by physical and chemical characteristics such as speciation, pH, and bioavailable ligands. As the global market for nanomaterials rapidly expands, so does the need of the scientific community for an understanding of how these influences in environmental fate and reactivity may be key in assessing toxicological risks associated with environmental exposures to NP CeO2 as well as other engineered metal oxide nanoparticles.