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Is Sunscreen Toxic to the Environment?


Trent University Researchers Explore the Fate and Effects of Nanomaterials in Aquatic Environments

Monday, April 28, 2008, Peterborough

Nanomaterials, such as those found in sunscreens, cosmetics, clothing and lighting products, are being closely studied by a team of environmental scientists led by Trent University’s Dr. Chris Metcalfe to determine their impact on aquatic organisms.

“Nanomaterials are so tiny that they can pass through cell membranes,” explained Professor Metcalfe. “They are increasingly being used by industries in commercial products, and as a result, it is likely that they are being discharged into the environment.”

The three-year research program which runs until 2010 is evaluating how algae, invertebrates, amphibians and fish respond to nanomaterials; invisible particles that are similar in size to bacteria measuring just one to ten billionths of a meter wide. The goal of this research is to develop methods for assessing the ecological risks of nanomaterials that will guide industry as applications develop. This research is being conducted by Prof. Metcalfe and Prof. Maggie Xenopoulos from Trent University, as well as colleagues at the University of Ottawa and the University of Alberta, with the cooperation of the National Institute for Nanotechnology based in Edmonton, Alberta. The study is being supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council through its Strategic Grants program, with matching funds from Environment Canada.

“In Canada, there are currently no specific assessment procedures for evaluating the potential ecological risks of new nanomaterials introduced into the Canadian market,” explained Prof. Metcalfe. “Considering the varied chemical, physical and toxicological properties of nanomaterials, there is a need to develop protocols for risk assessment of these materials,.” Prof. Metcalfe noted that various jurisdictions, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have called for integrated risk assessment procedures for nanomaterials.

Trent’s strong reputation for excellence in environmental research was one of the factors behind its successful bid to host the 2008 conference of the International Association of Great Lakes Research from May 19 – 23. Renowned environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will be giving the keynote address to the community at the Peterborough Memorial Centre on May 22. Ticket information is available by visiting www.trentu.ca/kennedy .


For further information, please contact:

Professor Maggie Xenopoulos
Biology Department, Trent University
(705) 748-1011, ext. 7699


Brittany Cadence
Communications Officer, Trent University
(705) 748-1011, ext. 6185