Silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide particles found in human tissues

Ruud J.B. Peters*, Agnes G. Oomen, Greet van Bemmel, Loes van Vliet, Anna K. Undas, Sandra Munniks, Ronald L.A.W. Bleys, Peter C. Tromp, Walter Brand, Martijn van der Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    54 Citations (Scopus)


    Silicon dioxide (silica, SiO2, SAS) and titanium dioxide (TiO2) are produced in high volumes and applied in many consumer and food products. As a consequence, there is a potential human exposure and subsequent systemic uptake of these particles. In this study we show the characterization and quantification of both total silicon (Si) and titanium (Ti), and particulate SiO2 and TiO2 in postmortem tissue samples from 15 deceased persons. Included tissues are liver, spleen, kidney and the intestinal tissues jejunum and ileum. Low-level analysis was enabled by the use of fully validated sample digestion methods combined with (single particle) inductively coupled plasma high resolution mass spectrometry techniques (spICP-HRMS). The results show a total-Si concentration ranging from <2 to 191 mg Si/kg (median values of 5.8 (liver), 9.5 (spleen), 7.7 (kidney), 6.8 (jejunum), 7.6 (ileum) mg Si/kg) while the particulate SiO2 ranged from <0.2 to 25 mg Si/kg (median values of 0.4 (liver), 1.0 (spleen), 0.4 (kidney), 0.7 (jejunum, 0.6 (ileum) mg Si/kg), explaining about 10% of the total-Si concentration. Particle sizes ranged from 150 to 850 nm with a mode of 270 nm. For total-Ti the results show concentrations ranging from <0.01 to 2.0 mg Ti/kg (median values of 0.02 (liver), 0.04 (spleen), 0.05 (kidney), 0.13 (jejunum), 0.26 (ileum) mg Ti/kg) while particulate TiO2 concentrations ranged from 0.01 to 1.8 mg Ti/kg (median values of 0.02 (liver), 0.02 (spleen), 0.03 (kidney), 0.08 (jejunum), 0.25 (ileum) mg Ti/kg). In general, the particulate TiO2 explained 80% of the total-Ti concentration. This indicates that most Ti in these organ tissues is particulate material. The detected particles comprise primary particles, aggregates and agglomerates, and were in the range of 50–500 nm with a mode in the range of 100–160 nm. About 17% of the detected TiO2 particles had a size <100 nm. The presence of SiO2 and TiO2 particles in liver tissue was confirmed by scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)420-432
    Issue number3
    Early online date29 Jan 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


    • human tissue
    • nanoparticle
    • silica
    • Silicon dioxide
    • single particle ICP-MS
    • titanium dioxide


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