Size dependence of silver nanoparticle removal in a wastewater treatment plant mesocosm measured by FAST single particle ICP-MS
The quantities of engineered nanoparticles (NP) released to the environment are often influenced by their fate in waste water treatment plants (WWTP). Here, 40 nm silver NP (AgNP) were spiked into a mesocosm simulating the process used at a major municipal WWTP. The evolution of the mass distributions and number concentrations were followed by fast acquisition speed technique single particle inductively coupled mass spectrometry (FAST spICP-MS) using a high-resolution ICP-MS. It was thus possible to detect smaller Ag containing NP than hitherto possible in similar studies. These small particles (ca. 5–10 nm in corresponding metallic Ag equivalent spherical diameter) were possibly dissolved Ag+ precipitated as Ag2S particles. They were detected immediately upon spiking and were stable with respect to aggregation and thus much less removed by the WWTP process compared to the 40 nm AgNP. The results also suggested that any transformation of the latter AgNP occurred without dissolution. Most of these larger AgNP were probably removed by aggregation with large floc particles and subsequent sedimentation with the suspended particulate matter in the simulated WWTP process. The results have implications for differentiating the fate of nanoparticles as a function of size and demonstrate how spICP-MS can reveal such size-dependent fate dynamics.