We fabricated polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) from low-density polyethylene and CdSe quantum dots (QDs) and used these materials to explore potential exposure after long-term storage in different acidic media that could be encountered in food contact applications. While the low-level release of QD-associated mass into all the food simulants was observed, exposure to dilute acetic acid resulted in more than double the mass transfer compared to that which occurred during exposure to dilute hydrochloric acid at the same pH. Conversely, exposure to citric acid resulted in a suppression of QD release. Permeation experiments and confocal microscopy were used to reveal mechanistic details underlying these mass-transfer phenomena. From this work, we conclude that the permeation of undissociated acid molecules into the polymer, limited by partitioning of the acids into the hydrophobic polymer, plays a larger role than pH in determining exposure to nanoparticles embedded in plastics. Although caution must be exercised when extrapolating these results to PNCs incorporating other nanofillers, these findings are significant because they undermine current thinking about the influence of pH on nanofiller release phenomena. From a regulatory standpoint, these results also support current guidance that 3% acetic acid is an acceptable acidic food simulant for PNCs fabricated from hydrophobic polymers because the other acids investigated resulted in significantly less exposure.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry