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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Mar 1;38(5):1605-10.

Engineered polymeric nanoparticles for soil remediation.

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Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Hydrophobic organic groundwater contaminants, such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), sorb strongly to soils and are difficult to remove. We report here on the synthesis of amphiphilic polyurethane (APU) nanoparticles for use in remediation of soil contaminated with PAHs. The particles are made of polyurethane acrylate anionomer (UAA) or poly(ethylene glycol)-modified urethane acrylate (PMUA) precursor chains that can be emulsified and cross-linked in water. The resulting particles are of colloidal size (17-97 nm as measured by dynamic light scattering). APU particles have the ability to enhance PAH desorption and transport in a manner comparable to that of surfactant micelles, but unlike the surface-active components of micelles, the individual cross-linked precursor chains in APU particles are not free to sorb to the soil surface. Thus, the APU particles are stable independent of their concentration in the aqueous phase. In this paper we show that APU particles can be engineered to achieve desired properties. Our experimental results show that the APU particles can be designed to have hydrophobic interior regions that confer a high affinity for phenanthrene (PHEN) and hydrophilic surfaces that promote particle mobility in soil. The affinity of APU particles for contaminants such as PHEN can be controlled by changing the size of the hydrophobic segment used in the chain synthesis. The mobility of colloidal APU suspensions in soil is controlled by the charge density or the size of the pendent water-soluble chains that reside on the particle surface. Exemplary results are provided illustrating the influence of alternative APU particle formulations with respect to their efficacy for contaminant removal. The ability to control particle properties offers the potential to produce different nanoparticles optimized for varying contaminant types and soil conditions.

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