Environmental Chemistry Environmental Chemistry Society
Environmental problems - Chemical approaches
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Agglomeration and dissolution of zinc oxide nanoparticles: role of pH, ionic strength and fulvic acid

Rute F. Domingos A C , Zohreh Rafiei B , Carlos E. Monteiro A , Mohammad A.K. Khan B and Kevin J. Wilkinson B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centro de Química Estrutural, Instituto Superior Técnico/Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Torre Sul lab 11-6.3, Avenida Rovisco Pais # 1, PT-1049-001 Lisbon, Portugal.

B Département de Chimie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC, H3C 3J7, Canada.

C Corresponding author. Email: rute.domingos@ist.utl.pt

Environmental Chemistry 10(4) 306-312 https://doi.org/10.1071/EN12202
Submitted: 28 December 2012  Accepted: 24 May 2013   Published: 2 August 2013

Environmental context. The number of nano-enabled products reaching consumers is growing exponentially, inevitably resulting in their release to the environment. The environmental fate and mobility of nanomaterials will depend on their physicochemical form(s) under natural conditions. For ZnO nanoparticles, determinations of agglomeration and dissolution under environmentally relevant conditions of pH, ionic strength and natural organic matter content will provide insight into the potential environmental risk of these novel products.

Abstract. The increasing use of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in industrial and household applications has led to their release into the environment and increasing concern about their effects. Proper assessment of the ecological risks of ENPs will require data on their bioavailability, persistence and mobility over a broad range of physicochemical conditions, including environmentally relevant pH, ionic strength and concentrations of natural organic matter (NOM). In this study, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy was used to determine the agglomeration of a ZnO ENP (nZnO) with a nominal size of 20 nm. Particle dissolution was followed using scanned stripping chronopotentiometry. The effects of Suwannee River fulvic acid (SRFA, 0–60 mg L–1) and the roles of pH (4–10) and ionic strength (0.005–0.1 M) were carefully evaluated. Agglomeration of the bare nZnO increased for pH values near the zero point of charge, whereas the dissolution of the particles decreased. At any given pH, an increase in ionic strength generally resulted in a less stable colloidal system. The role of SRFA was highly dependent upon its concentration with increased agglomeration observed at low SRFA : nZnO mass ratios and decreased agglomeration observed at higher SRFA : nZnO mass ratios. The results indicated that in natural systems, both nZnO dispersion and dissolution will be important and highly dependent upon the precise conditions of pH and ionic strength.


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