Enhancement in adsorption potential of microplastics in sewage sludge for metal pollutants after the wastewater treatment process

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Journal Article
Water Research, 2019, 157 pp. 228 - 237
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© 2019 Elsevier Ltd Microplastics (MPs) as new pollutants of environmental concern have been widely detected in sewage sludge, and may act as significant vectors for metal pollutants due to their adsorption property. Our findings show that Cd, Pb, and Co, but not Ni, contents in sewage sludge are lower than that of corresponding metal irons adsorbed on sludge-based MPs, indicating that the MPs accumulate such metal pollutants as Cd in the sludge samples. In contrast to virgin MPs, sludge-based MPs are one order of magnitude higher adsorption capacity for Cd, which reaches up to 2.523 mg g−1, implying that there is a considerable enhancement in adsorption potential of the MPs for metals after the wastewater treatment process. SEM analysis shows that sludge-based MPs have rougher and more porous surface than virgin MPs, and FTIR spectra reveal that functional groups such as C–O and O–H are found on sludge-based MPs. Further, two-dimensional FTIR correlation spectroscopy indicates that C–O and N–H functional groups play a vital role in the process that sludge-based MPs adsorb Cd, which are not found in virgin MPs. The results imply that increased adsorption potentials of the sludge-based MPs to Cd are attributed to changes in the MP physicochemical properties during wastewater treatment process. In addition, such factors as pH value, and sludge inorganic and organic components also have an effect on the MP adsorption to Cd. Principal component analysis shows that the MPs could be divided into three categories, i.e. polyamide, rubbery MPs (polyethylene and polypropylene) and glassy MPs (polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene). Their adsorption potentials to Cd follow the decreasing order: polyamide > rubbery MPs > glassy MPs. In summary, these findings indicate that MPs may exert an important influence on fate and transport of metal pollutants during sewage sludge treatment process, which deserves to be further concerned.
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