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School of Geography

Disposal of nanomaterials and risks to the aquatic environment

Disposal of nanomaterials 01

Supervisors: Dr Rebecca Slack (Geography); Prof Andrew Nelson (Chemistry)

Background and rationale

The use of nanomaterials in consumer products has increased considerably over the last decade. The US-EPA have estimated that nanomaterials are used in more than 500 consumer products, from sun-screen to clothing, and the number is expected to grow. By 2015, it is estimated that consumer products with nanotechnology applications will value $1 trillion on the world market. The growth in use of nanomaterials has far out-stripped understanding of the environmental fate, behaviour and potential ecotoxicity of these materials and yet nanomaterials are constantly entering the natural environment via waste water and solid waste disposal pathways.

Project outline

This PhD project will evaluate current understanding of the fate of nanomaterials in the aquatic environment, paying particular attention to the area of solid waste management and the disposal of nanomaterials to landfill as it is this pathway to environmental exposure that is the least well documented (Boldrin et al. 2014; Bolyard et al. 2013). The project will include pilot scale assessments of nanomaterial behaviour in landfill situations and landfill and groundwater modelling (after Slack et al. 2007) to understand the risks posed by common nanomaterials such as silica, titania, alumina, and iron and zinc oxides.

Research questions

Particular research questions might include:

  • What are the main pathways for nanomaterial entry into the aquatic environment?
  • How significant is disposal to landfills?
  • Are current engineered landfills capable of restricting entry of nanoparticles into soil/groundwater?
  • What risks, if any, are posed to the environment/human health and how can they be mitigated?

Approach and programme of work

This project will be achieved through a combination of modelling and field and laboratory manipulation experiments.  The student will develop their own work programme in consultation with supervisors and a research support group consisting of at least two additional non-supervisory researchers. A training programme will also be developed at the start of the project to ensure the student receives suitable training in all skills required for the project. Further support will be offered through water(at)leeds, the water research centre at the University of Leeds (


The prospective student should have (or expect to receive) a minimum of a first class or high 2i BSc degree in an appropriate discipline, and have interests and experience in most, if not all, of the following topics: environmental chemistry, water quality, modelling (particularly stochastic approaches), risk assessment.


  • Boldrin, Alessio; Hansen, Steffen Foss; Baun, Anders; et al. (2014) Environmental exposure assessment framework for nanoparticles in solid waste. JOURNAL OF NANOPARTICLE RESEARCH  16:2394  
  • Bolyard, Stephanie C.; Reinhart, Debra R.; Santra, Swadeshmukul (2013) Behavior of Engineered Nanoparticles in Landfill Leachate. ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY  47:8114-8122
  • Slack RJ; Gronow JR; Hall DH; Voulvoulis N (2007) Household hazardous waste disposal to landfill: using LandSim to model leachate migration., Environmental Pollution 146:501-509