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Transport of silver nanoparticles in intact columns of calcareous soils: The role of flow conditions and soil texture


Growing production of manufactured nanomaterials has increased the possibility of contamination of groundwater resources and soils by nanoparticles (NPs). It is crucial to study the fate of NPs in subsurface porous media in order to evaluate and control their risks to ecosystems and human health. Hence, this study was conducted to investigate the transport and retention of polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) stabilized silver nanoparticles (AgNPs, a diameter of 40 nm) under saturated and unsaturated conditions in intact columns of two calcareous sandy loam (TR) and loam (ZR) soils. Furthermore, similar experiments were conducted using sand quartz as a reference medium. A pulse of the AgNP suspension with an input concentration (C0) of 50 mg L−1 was injected into the columns for 3 pore volumes. The transport of bromide (Br), as a non-reactive inert tracer, was also examined. High mobility of AgNPs was observed through the sand columns due to unfavorable conditions for AgNP deposition on the quartz sand surfaces. Nearly all AgNPs introduced into the columns of both soils were retained in the soil. Percentages of AgNPs leached out of the columns were <1% of the total injected mass in both soils. Hyperexponential retention profiles (RPs) were observed in both soils and maximum concentrations of 100–130 mg kg−1 were determined near the columns’ inlet. However, slightly stronger retention of AgNPs and greater maximum retained concentrations on the solid phase (Smax) in the ZR soil compared with the TR soil may be attributed to smaller grain sizes of the ZR soil. Hydrodynamic forces adjacent to the solid surfaces near the column inlet can provide a viable explanation for the hyperexponential shape of RPs. The one-site kinetic attachment model in HYDRUS-1D, which accounted for time- and depth-dependent retention, was successfully used to analyze the retention of AgNPs. The results showed that the degree of saturation had little effect on the mobility of AgNPs through undisturbed soil columns. Our results suggested the limited transport of AgNPs in neutral/alkaline calcareous soils under both saturated and unsaturated conditions.

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