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Environ Sci Technol. 2011 May 1;45(9):3902-8. doi: 10.1021/es1041892. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

Behavior of metallic silver nanoparticles in a pilot wastewater treatment plant.

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  • 1Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland.


We investigated the behavior of metallic silver nanoparticles (Ag-NP) in a pilot wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) fed with municipal wastewater. The treatment plant consisted of a nonaerated and an aerated tank and a secondary clarifier. The average hydraulic retention time including the secondary clarifier was 1 day and the sludge age was 14 days. Ag-NP were spiked into the nonaerated tank and samples were collected from the aerated tank and from the effluent. Ag concentrations determined by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) were in good agreement with predictions based on mass balance considerations. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analyses confirmed that nanoscale Ag particles were sorbed to wastewater biosolids, both in the sludge and in the effluent. Freely dispersed nanoscale Ag particles were only observed in the effluent during the initial pulse spike. X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) measurements indicated that most Ag in the sludge and in the effluent was present as Ag(2)S. Results from batch experiments suggested that Ag-NP transformation to Ag(2)S occured in the nonaerated tank within less than 2 h. Physical and chemical transformations of Ag-NP in WWTPs control the fate, the transport and also the toxicity and the bioavailability of Ag-NP and therefore must be considered in future risk assessments.

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