The effect of nanoparticles and humic acid on technology critical element concentrations in aqueous solutions with soil and sand

Zane Stepka, Ishai Dror, Brian Berkowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a consequence of their growing use in electronic and industrial products, increasing amounts of technology critical elements (TCEs) are being released to the environment. Currently little is known about the fate of many of these elements. Initial research on their potential environmental impact identifies TCEs as emerging contaminants. TCE movement in the environment is often governed by water systems. Research on “natural” waters so far demonstrates that TCEs tend to be associated with suspended particulate matter (SPM), which influences TCE aqueous concentrations (here: concentration of TCEs in dissolved form and attached to SPM) and transport. However, the relative potential of different types of SPM to interact with TCEs is unknown. Here we examine the potential of various types of particulate matter, namely different nanoparticles (NPs; Al 2O 3 SiO 2, CeO 2, ZnO, montmorillonite, Ag, Au and carbon dots) and humic acid (HA), to impact TCE aqueous concentrations in aqueous solutions with soil and sand, and thus influence TCE transport in soil-water environments. We show that a combination of NPs and HA, and not NPs or HA individually, increases the aqueous concentrations of TCEs in soil solutions, for all tested NPs regardless of their type. TCEs retained on SPM, however, settle with time. In solutions with sand, HA alone is as influential as NPs + HA in keeping TCEs in the aqueous phase. Among NPs, Ag-NPs and Au-NPs demonstrate the highest potential for TCE transport. These results suggest that in natural soil-water environments, once TCEs are retained by soil, their partitioning to the aqueous phase by through-flowing water is unlikely. However, if TCEs are introduced to soil-water environments as part of solutions rich in NPs and HA, it is likely that NP and HA combinations can increase TCE stability in the aqueous phase and prevent their retention on soil and sand, thus facilitating TCE transport.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1083-1091
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date30 Aug 2017
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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