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Environ Sci Process Impacts. 2013 Jan;15(1):267-74.

Sorption of trace organics and engineered nanomaterials onto wetland plant material.


Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents are sources for emerging pollutants, including organic compounds and engineered nanomaterials (ENMs), which then flow into aquatic systems. In this article, natural attenuation of pollutants by constructed wetland plants was investigated using lab-scale microcosm and batch sorption studies. The microcosms were operated at varying hydraulic residence times (HRTs) and contained decaying plant materials. Representative organic compounds and ENMs were simultaneously spiked into the microcosm influent, along with a conservative tracer (bromide), and then monitored in the effluent over time. It was observed that a more hydrophobic compound-natural estrogen achieved better removal than a polar organic compound – para-chlorobenzoic acid (pCBA), which mimics the behaviour of the tracer. Batch sorption experiments showed that estrogen has higher sorption affinity than pCBA, highlighting the importance of sorption to the plant materials as a removal process for the organic contaminants in the microcosms. Wetland plants were also found a potential sorbent for ENMs. Two different ENMs (nano-silver and aqueous fullerenes) were included in this study, both of which experienced comparable removal in the microcosms. Relative to the tracer, the highest removal of ENMs and trace organics was 60% and 70%, respectively. A more than two-fold increase in HRT increased the removal efficiency of the contaminants in the range of 20–60%. The outcome of this study supports that plant materials of wetlands can play an important role in removing emerging pollutants from WWTP effluent.

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