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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences

Department of Hydrology - Prof. Dr. Stefan Peiffer

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Heteroaggregation of PS microplastic with ferrihydrite leads to rapid removal of microplastic particles from the water column

Presenting person: Johanna Schmidtmann
Mo. 2022-05-02 (09:00-10:00), H6

Contact: Sven Frei
Microplastic (MP) particles are ubiquitous in aquatic environments. Therefore, understanding the processes that affect their removal from the water column, such as sedimentation, is critical for evaluating the risk they pose to aquatic ecosystems. However, our understanding of the mechanisms controlling aggregation and subsequent sedimentation of MP during interactions with environmental particles is still limited. Here, we analyzed the heteroaggregation of 1 µm polystyrene (PS) particles and ferrihydrite, a common naturally occurring ferric (oxy)hydroxide. Furthermore, we performed sedimentation experiments in which PS and PS + ferrihydrite were analyzed in settling columns after 1 day and 1 week of settling time. The presence of ferrihydrite increased sedimentation rates of PS at all pH values studied (pH 3-11). At pH 6 we found that almost all PS particles were removed from the water column after only one day of exposure time. For the same samples, SEM/EDS imaging and particle size measurements confirmed strong heteroaggregation between PS and ferrihydrite. At acidic pH values, zeta potential measurements indicated that the negatively charged PS surface was coated with positively charged ferrihydrite particles leading to charge reversal. Our results demonstrate for the first time that ferric (oxy)hydroxides drive heteroaggregation and subsequent removal of MP from the water column, especially at typical pH values found in natural lake environments. Given their abundance in aquatic systems, ferric (oxy)hydroxides need to be regarded as key scavengers of MP.

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