Prolific shedding of magnetite nanoparticles from banknote surfaces

Maher, B.A. and Gonet, T. (2021) Prolific shedding of magnetite nanoparticles from banknote surfaces. Science of the Total Environment, 768. ISSN 0048-9697

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Here, we use magnetic methods first to quantify the content of strongly magnetic particles of banknotes (US dollars, USD, and British pounds sterling, GBP), and then examine the possibility of their release from handled banknote surfaces. The content of magnetic particles, from magnetic remanence measurements, for the USD and paper GBP banknotes is high; greater, for example, than that in vehicle engine-exhaust emissions, and similar to that for airborne roadside particulate matter (PM). Our magnetic analyses of USD and GBP banknotes, and of the ink pigment widely used in their printing, reveal not only that the banknotes are highly magnetic, but also that strongly magnetic, nano-sized particles are readily and prolifically shed from their surfaces (especially from the USD banknotes). A common practice, prior to increased automation, was for bank tellers to count banknotes by licking a finger to adhere to each successive counted note, and thus speed up the manual counting process. Given the rate of particle shedding reported here, this traditional manual counting procedure must have resulted in prolific transfer of iron-rich nanoparticles both to the fingers and thence to the tongue. We hypothesise that, pre-automation, magnetite and other metal-bearing nanoparticles were repetitively and frequently ingested by bank tellers, and subsequently entered the brain directly via the taste nerve pathway, and/or indirectly via the systemic circulation and the neuroenteric system. This hypothesis may plausibly account for the reported and currently unexplained association between elevated neurodegeneration-related mortality odds ratios and this specific occupation.

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Journal Article
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Science of the Total Environment
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This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Science of the Total Environment. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Science of the Total Environment, 768, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144490
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15 Oct 2021 15:55
Last Modified:
22 Nov 2022 09:52