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

Determination of the free-ion concentration of rare earth elements by an ion-exchange technique: implementation, evaluation and limits

Sébastien Leguay A , Peter G. C. Campbell A and Claude Fortin A B

A Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre Eau Terre Environnement, 490 rue de la Couronne, Québec, QC, G1K 9A9, Canada.

B Corresponding author. Email: fortincl@ete.inrs.ca

Environmental Chemistry 13(3) 478-488 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/EN15136
Submitted: 30 June 2015  Accepted: 7 October 2015   Published: 27 January 2016

Environmental context. The lanthanides are a group of heavy elements (from lanthanum to lutetium) increasingly used in many electronic consumer products and little is known about their environmental mobility and toxicity. In natural systems, these elements will bind to natural organic matter but metal toxicity is usually defined by the free metal ion concentration. Here, we propose a method based on sample equilibration with an ion-exchange resin to measure the free lanthanide ion concentration in the presence of natural organic matter.

Abstract. An ion-exchange technique that employs a polystyrene sulphonate ion-exchange resin was developed for determining environmentally relevant free-ion concentrations of Ce, Eu, La and Nd. Owing to the high affinity of rare earth elements (REE) for the selected resin, this method requires the addition of an inert salt to increase the concentration of the counter-ions (i.e. cations that are exchanged with REE bound to the resin). The use of a batch equilibration approach to calibrate the resin allowed the implementation of the ion-exchange technique at reasonably low ionic strength (I = 0.1 M). Several ligands were used to test the selectivity of the method, which proved to be highly selective for the free metal ion in presence of the tested cationic and anionic complexes (REE–nitrate, REE–malic acid and REE–nitrilotriacetic acid systems) and operational for very low proportions of REE3+, owing to the strong REE–resin interactions. The ion-exchange technique was also implemented to determine [Eu]inorg in the presence of natural humic matter (Suwannee River Humic Acid) and the results were compared with those obtained using equilibrium dialysis and those calculated with chemical equilibrium models. At pH 4.00, the measured [Eu]inorg values were in fairly good agreement with those predicted with the Windermere Humic Aqueous Model and Stockholm Humic Model, whereas the Non-Ideal Competitive Absorption model appeared to underestimate the [Eu]inorg. However, the inorganic europium concentrations were strongly underestimated (4 < [Eu]inorg, IET/[Eu]inorg, calc < 18) with the three prediction models at higher pH (5.3 and 6.2).

Additional keywords: free metal ions, humic acid, lanthanides, speciation.


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