Effect of water and wastewater treatment on the properties of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in the context of their fate, toxicity and interaction with other contaminants (H2020-MSCA-IF-2015, No. 699794))


Originality and innovative aspects of the research programme

The proposed study will be the first which investigate how various water and wastewater treatment methods will influence the physicochemical and ecotoxicological properties of ENMs. There is only a few studies describing the changes of ENMs under different environmental conditions2 but none of these investigate the effect of water/wastewater treatment on ENMs. Recognition of this problem has an extremely important aspect of cognition in a situation of increasing ENMs production. Acquired new knowledge on this topic will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms and processes in the environment. The research will contribute to a broad base of knowledge that will be the basis for solving of known or expected future problems related to the use of ENMs. Innovative aspects of the work are: All these research will be done by state-of-the-art equipment and infrastructure provided by outgoing (Duke) and returning host (Uni-Lublin).

  1. Punktor Investigation of the effects of different water and wastewater treatment process on ENMs properties (WP1);

  2. Punktor Determination of ENMs changes during water/wastewater treatment and how these changes affect ENMs fate (aggregation, mobility, bioaccumulation) in the environment (WP2);

  3. Punktor Determination of how change in ENMs properties may result in a change in the strength of interactions with other contaminants, thus affecting their bioavailability and toxicity (WP3);

  4. Punktor Evaluation of ENMs toxicity to different organisms in connection of changes ENMs properties (WP4).

Introduction, state-of-the-art, objectives and overview of the action

Behavior of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in the environment differs from the pathways observed for larger particles2. Due to the special properties of ENMs and a wide range of their applications, attempts are made to estimate the fate of ENMs in the environment and transformations during their use and storage3. The release of ENMs may occur during the use of materials containing nanoparticles, their processing or disposal and storage. It is assumed that the major part of ENMs gets into the environment with wastewater. During their transport and release into the environment, ENMs may undergo different transformations, e.g. oxidation and reduction, dissolution, adsorption, biotransformation, aggregation, and deposition2. Those transformations may lead to changes in the properties of ENMs. As released ENMs will firstly get into wastewaters, one can expect that they will be subject to various processes of transformation there. Moreover ENMs are commonly produced with an organic capping agent or stabilizer. Moreover recent focus on material synthesis and development at the nano-scale shows a clear shift from single material processing toward hierarchical assemblages (nanohybrids). Transformations of the material (coated and nanohybrids) can therefore affect the core material, the capping agent, or both. While publications tracing the fate of ENMs during wastewater treatment appear more and more frequently4,5, we currently lack sufficient knowledge of the types, rates, and extent of transformations expected for ENMs during water and wastewater treatment. By extension, we also fail to understand the impact of those transformations on the fate, transport, and toxicity of ENMs. To correctly forecast the environmental and human health risks associated with these materials, we must endeavor to broaden our knowledge of the transformations of ENMs.

So far such research is conducted primarily in the USA3, and only a few research teams have addressed that subject in Europe4. Studies on the transformation of ENMs are very few and mainly published in collaboration with scientists from the USA4. The latest research shows4 that in wastewater treatment plants certain ENMs may undergo the processes of sulfidation, which has a detoxifying effect on ENMs. However other research6 demonstrated that sulphur and selenium in some metal sulphides and metal selenides (major components of quantum dots) are susceptible to oxidation that may release soluble toxic metal ions such as Cd. Underestimation of the risk related to ENMs may create a serious threat to the environment. My latest studies (please see CV ref. 23) also demonstrated that under the effect of UV/H2O2 carbon nanotubes undergo degradation that changes their properties. In view of the above information it is necessary to undertake research on the effect of water treatment processes on the properties of ENMs. This will not only expand our current knowledge in this area, but it will also permit the identification of actual threats related with the use of ENMs. This in turn will permit the presentation of suitable solutions for the authorities responsible for environmental safety on Europe.

The primary aim of the present study will be to attempt to estimate what changes different ENMs (coated and nanohybrids) will undergo during water and wastewater treatment and how these changes will affect ENMs fate, toxicity and interaction with other contaminants. Specifically, I will:

  1. Punktor Enhance our knowledge of the ENMs transformation during water and wastewater treatment (WP1),

  2. Punktor Enhance our knowledge how ENMs transformation will affect their fate in the environment on the basis of laboratory and mesocosm experiments (WP2).

  3. Punktor Enhance our knowledge about interaction between well-known contaminants and ENMs (WP3).

  4. Punktor Perform risk assessment of ENMs in the context of their transformation (WP4).

The achievement of these goals requires an inter- and multidisciplinary approach including environmental nanotechnology and chemistry, ecotoxicology, physics, material chemistry and engineering. It may sound too ambitious to say that the proposed project will lead to change of our look on ENMs regulations, however application of different state-of-the-art and multidisciplinary tools and methods may reveal weaknesses or limitations of the existing knowledge.

Research Methodology