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Incidence and persistence of silver nanoparticles throughout the wastewater treatment process


While the predicted or observed concentrations of Ag NPs in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have ranged from μg/L to ng/L, there is still uncertainty with regards to the realistic concentration range of Ag NPs in WWTPs. In addition, the persistence, removal, and size of Ag NPs throughout WWTP process is also not well investigated, particularly in real operating conditions. In this study, the incidence and persistence of Ag NPs in the wastewater process were studied by using single particle inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (sp-ICP-MS). The incidence of Ag NPs was determined in samples collected at the influent and effluent of the conventional process, as well as reclaimed and backwash waters of the ultrafiltration (UF) system in a WWTP (Santa Barbara, CA), showing a concentration of 13.5, 3.2, 0.5 and 9.8 ng/L, respectively, with relative standard deviations (RSDs) < 5%. Total Ag concentration (Ag NP and Ag+) ranged from 40 to 70 ng/L, in line with lower predicted values. Most of the Ag NPs detected were below 100 nm, with a few above 100 nm in the conventional effluent. Biological and physical processes in the secondary treatment removed 76.3% of the colloidal Ag fraction, while with the tertiary treatment (UF) the WWTP achieved a removal of 96.3% of the colloidal fraction. Persistence of Ag NPs in various water matrixes, including a synthetic wastewater (SWW), was determined by spiking 300 ng/L of Ag NPs (40 nm) and monitoring the concentrations and size change for 15 days. The persistence of Ag NPs in suspension was Influent > Effluent > Reclaimed > SWW. Partial dissolution of NPs in all waters was observed from time 0 h. Although the current concentrations in the outlet flows from WWTP (effluent and reclaimed waters) were low, the presence of small and stable Ag NPs may raise ecotoxicological concerns via bioaccumulation.

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