- Modelling the transport of engineered metallic nanoparticles in the river Rhine
- Water Research
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
As engineered nanoparticles of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and silver, are increasingly used in consumer products, they will most probably enter the natural environment via wastewater, atmospheric deposition and other routes. The aim of this study is to predict the concentrations of these nanoparticles via wastewater emissions in a typical river system by means of a numerical model. The calculations rely on estimates of the use of nanomaterials in consumer products and the removal efficiency in wastewater treatment plants as well as model calculations of the fate and transport of nanoparticles in a riverine system. The river Rhine was chosen for this work as it is one of the major and best studied rivers in Europe. The study gives insight in the concentrations that can be expected and, by comparing the model results with measurements of the total metal concentrations, of the relative contribution of these emerging contaminants.
Six scenarios were examined. Two scenarios concerned the total emission: in the first it was assumed that nanoparticles are only released via wastewater (treated or untreated) and in the second it was assumed that in addition nanoparticles can enter the river system via runoff from the application of sludge as a fertilizer. In both cases the assumption was that the nanoparticles enter the river system as free, unattached particles. Four additional scenarios, based on the total emissions from the second scenario, were examined to highlight the consequences of the assumption of free nanoparticles and the uncertainties about the aggregation processes.
If all nanoparticles enter as free particles, roughly a third would end up attached to suspended particulate matter due to the aggregation processes nanoparticles are subject to. For the other scenarios the contribution varies from 20 to 45%. Since the Rhine is a fast flowing river, sedimentation is unlikely to occur, except at the floodplains and the lakes in the downstream regions, as in fact shown by the sediment mass balance. Nanoparticles will therefore be transported along the whole river until they enter the North Sea.
For the first scenario, the concentrations predicted for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles are in the order of 0.5 μg/l, for silver nanoparticles in the order of 5 ng/l. For zinc and titanium compounds this amounts to 5-10% of the measured total metal concentrations, for silver to 2%. For the other scenarios, the predicted nanoparticle concentrations are two to three times higher.
While there are still considerable uncertainties in the inputs and consequently the model results, this study predicts that nanoparticles are capable of being transported over long distances, in much the same way as suspended particulate matter.
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