Fullerenes consist exclusively of carbon, which is common in all living beings and the air. Therefore, a specific detection of these nanomaterials in the environment is very difficult and currently only few data are available on the quantities of fullerenes found in the environment.


smoke from industrial chimney.smoke from industrial chimney.In addition to production sites, combustion products (soot) from candles, motors, aircraft turbines and the handling of these nanomaterials in the laboratory are sources of fullerenes [1,2]. Likewise, Fullerenes are also naturally generated by lightning or meteorite impacts. After fabrication, they are released into the air and then transported via the rain into soil or surface waters. Fullerols, which are fullerenes carrying hydroxyl groups on their surface, can be degraded by certain fungi due to their altered surface; this is not possible for fullerenes [3].

Few studies describe the detection of fullerenes in environmental samples. Traces of fullerene nanomaterials have been found in aerosols of the Mediterranean, in sand from Saudi Arabia, in river sediment from Spain, in waters and sediments from Barcelona and Brazil as well as in some surface waters from Taiwan [2-7]. However, these small amounts of fullerene nanomaterials do not pose any risk to the respective environmental organisms (see section Fullerenes - Uptake & risk for environmental organisms)


In industrial areas however, a tenfold quantity of fullerenes compared to the unspoiled nature was detected, indicating a probable unintentional release by combustion processes [7].

Computer Screenshot Spreadsheet © Rawpixel.com / fotolia.com


Although several measurement methods have already been developed for the detection of actual amounts of fullerenes present in the environment, few studies are available. Therefore, computer models were used for predicting environmental concentrations [4,5,8,9]. The expected environmental concentrations (PEC) are calculated from production quantities, predicting a future accumulation of fullerenes in landfills and sewage treatment plants [10,11]. Subsequently, fullerene nanomaterials originating from sewage treatment plants can either reach surface waters or end up via the sludge in a waste incineration plant.


After evaluating various toxicological studies, the calculated risk quotient for fullerenes was below 1, meaning that the present (theoretical) environmental concentrations of fullerenes do not present any risks for environmental organisms. However, these theoretically calculated values need confirmation in the future by experimentally collected measured values, or adapted to increasing production quantities, respectively.



Literature arrow down

  1. Johnson, DR et al. (2010), Environ Health Perspect, 118(1): 49-54.
  2. Sanchis, J et al. (2015), Sci Total Environ, 505: 172-179.
  3. Schreiner, KM et al. (2009), Environ Sci Technol, 43(9): 3162-3168.
  4. Sanchis, J et al. (2012), Environ Sci Technol, 46 (3): 1335-1343.
  5. Astefanei, A et al. (2014), J Chromatogr A, 1365: 61-71.
  6. Sanchis, J et al. (2013), Anal Bioanal Chem, 405 (18): 5915-5923.
  7. Sanchis, J et al. (2014), Anal Bioanal Chem, 407(15): 4261-4275.
  8. Chen, Z et al. (2008), Environ Toxicol Chem, 27(9): 1852-1859.
  9. Chen, HC & Ding, WH (2012), J Chromatogr A, 1223: 15-23.
  10. Gottschalk, F et al. (2009),Environ Sci Technol, 43(24): 9216-9222.
  11. Mueller, NC et al. (2008), Environ Sci Technol, 42(12): 4447-4453.


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