Rigorous Physicochemical Framework for Metal Ion Binding by Aqueous Nanoparticulate Humic Substances: Implications for Speciation Modeling by the NICA-Donnan and WHAM Codes

Raewyn M. Town*, Herman P. Van Leeuwen, Jérôme F.L. Duval

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Latest knowledge on the reactivity of charged nanoparticulate complexants toward aqueous metal ions is discussed in mechanistic detail. We present a rigorous generic description of electrostatic and chemical contributions to metal ion binding by nanoparticulate complexants, and their dependence on particle size, particle type (i.e., reactive sites distributed within the particle body or confined to the surface), ionic strength of the aqueous medium, and the nature of the metal ion. For the example case of soft environmental particles such as fulvic and humic acids, practical strategies are delineated for determining intraparticulate metal ion speciation, and for evaluating intrinsic chemical binding affinities and heterogeneity. The results are compared with those obtained by popular codes for equilibrium speciation modeling (namely NICA-Donnan and WHAM). Physicochemical analysis of the discrepancies generated by these codes reveals the a priori hypotheses adopted therein and the inappropriateness of some of their key parameters. The significance of the characteristic time scales governing the formation and dissociation rates of metal-nanoparticle complexes in defining the relaxation properties and the complete equilibration of the metal-nanoparticulate complex dispersion is described. The dynamic features of nanoparticulate complexes are also discussed in the context of predictions of the labilities and bioavailabilities of the metal species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8516-8532
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2019


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