Silicon dioxide occurs in two different crystal structures, amorphous and crystalline. The structure has to be considered, as it may influence the effect on environmental organisms. Most results are available for amorphous silicon dioxide nanoparticles. These nanoparticles were only harmful to environmental organisms in very high, non-environmentally relevant doses.


Icon bacteriaTowards bacteria and microbial soil communities, different sizes of silicon dioxide nanoparticles exert little toxicity. Due to the photocatalytic activity of some nanoforms of silicon dioxide, effects on bacteria are greater under illumination compared to exposure in the dark. Coarser silicon dioxide particles are considered completely non-toxic towards bacteria. Some studies even show a beneficial effect of silica nanoparticles on bacterial growth. Contrary, the bacteria in activated sludge are inhibited by silicon dioxide nanoparticles (see cross cutting topic - Nanomaterials in waste water treatment) [1,15-19].


Icon algae

Green algae are able to take up very small silica nanoparticles (5 nm), whereas larger particles are not able to cross the algae cell wall. Yet, particles are found to adhere to the surface of algae causing a reduction in algae growth, which can be traced back to shading effects. This effect, however, only occurs at very high and not environmentally relevant concentrations and can be reversed by natural organic matter, probably by preventing the particle attachment to algae [2-4,6].


Icon mussel

Towards blood cells of mussels, silicon dioxide nanoparticles exert no acute toxicity but caused signs of inflammation as well as reactive oxygen production (ROS) [5].

Icon Nematode



Nematodes exposed to silicon dioxide nanoparticles show ROS formation, causing impaired mobility and reproduction [14].



Icon fishWhen tested for an application as a drug carrier, small amounts of silica nanoparticles injected into zebrafish embryos don't cause any negative effects. However, in other zebrafish studies, silica nanoparticles cause developmental and behavioural effects. In grass carp, nanosized silicon dioxide cause a change in the blood composition. Different fish cell lines representing different organs are more sensitive to silica nanoparticles if they originated from a tissue getting directly in contact with the environment, such as skin or gills [8-13].

 Icon insect


Upon exposure to silica nanoparticles, fruit flies show evidences for genetic damage. Silicon dioxide nanoparticles administered via the food cause slight intestinal cell damage to bumble bees and impaired their reproduction [7,20].


Icon plantArabidopsis plants showed a slower growth and a reduced content of green leaf dye after exposure to silica nanoparticles via the roots. This is attributed to a reduced nutrient uptake due to the binding the nutrients to silicon dioxide nanoparticles. In other plants such as maize, rice, wheat, lupine, pumpkin and reed however, no toxic effects from nanoscale silicon dioxide are observed. Sometimes even the germination of seeds and the growth of seedlings is favoured [15,19,21-26].



The majority of the observed effects of silicon dioxide nanoparticles on environmental organisms were caused by very high and non-environmentally relevant concentrations. Therefore, according to current knowledge, environmental organisms are not endangered by silicon dioxide nanoparticles.



Literature arrow down

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