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Atmospheric emission of nanoplastics from sewer pipe repairs


Nanoplastic particles are inadequately characterized environmental pollutants that have adverse effects on aquatic and atmospheric systems, causing detrimental effects to human health through inhalation, ingestion and skin penetration1,2,3. At present, it is explicitly assumed that environmental nanoplastics (EnvNPs) are weathering fragments of microplastic or larger plastic debris that have been discharged into terrestrial and aquatic environments, while atmospheric EnvNPs are attributed solely to aerosolization by wind and other mechanical forces. However, the sources and emissions of unintended EnvNPs are poorly understood and are therefore largely unaccounted for in various risk assessments4. Here we show that large quantities of EnvNPs may be directly emitted into the atmosphere as steam-laden waste components discharged from a technology commonly used to repair sewer pipes in urban areas. A comprehensive chemical analysis of the discharged waste condensate has revealed the abundant presence of insoluble colloids, which after drying form solid organic particles with a composition and viscosity consistent with EnvNPs. We suggest that airborne emissions of EnvNPs from these globally used sewer repair practices may be prevalent in highly populated urban areas5, and may have important implications for air quality and toxicological levels that need to be mitigated.

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Fig. 1: A schematic illustration of CIPP installation.
Fig. 2: Particle mass size distributions of wet colloids and dry particles from CIPP waste.
Fig. 3: Size, morphology and viscosity characteristics of dry particles aerosolized from four samples of CIPP waste condensate.
Fig. 4: SERS spectra of individual dry EnvNP particles from the X1 sample of CIPP waste condensate.
Fig. 5: Carbon chemical bonding and mixing states of the EnvNPs from CIPP waste condensates.

Data availability

The datasets generated and analysed in this work are available for download as a zip file from Datasets are provided for Figs. 25 and Supplementary Figs. 3, 5 and 7–10. Supplementary information is available in the online version of the paper. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.L.


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This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant nos. CBET-1624183 and CBET-2129166 (A.J.W. group), and CBET-2107946 (A.L. group)), the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (grant no. DGE-1333468 (A.C.M.)) and the Purdue University Ross Fellowship program (B.N.P., S.A.L.S. and Y.N.). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The CCSEM–EDX, HRTEM and SERS analyses, with guidance from N. Lata and Z. Cheng, were performed at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a National Scientific User Facility sponsored by OBER at PNNL. PNNL is operated by the US Department of Energy by the Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC06-76RL0. STXM–NEXAFS analyses were performed at beamline 5.3.2 of the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), with guidance from D. Kilcoyne, M. Marcus and D. Shapiro. LBNL is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the US Department of Energy under contract DE-AC02-05CH11231. STXM maps of particles were also acquired at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), with guidance from J. Wang. CLS is supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the University of Saskatchewan, the Government of Saskatchewan, Western Economic Diversification Canada, the National Research Council Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.C.M., J.M.T. and A.L. conceptualized the framework, experiments and analytical methodologies of the study. Y.N., S.M.T.S., B.E.B., J.A.H. and A.J.W. conducted field studies and provided samples of the CIPP waste condensates. A.C.M., C.P.W. and B.N.P. performed the HPLC–HRMS measurements and analysed the data. J.M.T. and F.A.R.-A. analysed individual particles using SEM and STXM. S.A.L.S. performed the TEM analysis of heated particles. S.C. assisted with SEM experiments and R.C.M. assisted with STXM experiments and instrument operation. B.T.O’C. and P.Z.E.-K. performed the SERS analysis. A.C.M. and A.L. integrated the experimental datasets and wrote the manuscript, and all authors contributed its review and editing. A.J.W. and A.L. secured grant support for this study and managed the project.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Laskin.

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Competing interests

A.J.W., J.A.H., B.E.B. and S.M.T.S. are named in a patent application (PCT application no. PCT/US18/28173) filed 18 April 2018 by the Purdue Research Foundation. The patent application pertains to the technologies for capturing CIPP waste condensates investigated in this study. The invention was developed with support from the US National Science Foundation (grant CBET-1624183). The remaining authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Notes 1–13 and references.

Supplementary Video 1

A video of the discharged waste plume adjacent to the oak tree. Taken by A.J.W.

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Morales, A.C., Tomlin, J.M., West, C.P. et al. Atmospheric emission of nanoplastics from sewer pipe repairs. Nat. Nanotechnol. 17, 1171–1177 (2022).

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