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Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) can enter the environment when released from products containing them. As AgNPs enter soil, they are often retained in the soil profile and/or leached to the groundwater. This research assessed the transport of AgNPs in their “particle form” through the soil profile using a series of columns. Three soil types were put into soil columns: LSH (loam with high organic matter (OM)), LSL (loam with low OM), and Sand (no OM). The results showed that AgNP transport and retention in soil as well as particle size changes are affected by soil organic matter (OM) and the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soil. OM affected the transport and retention of AgNPs. This was evident in the LSH columns where the OM concentration was the highest and the AgNP content the lowest in the soil layers and in the effluent water. The highest transported AgNP content was detected in the Sand columns where OM was the lowest. CEC had an impact on the particle size of the AgNPs that were retained in the soil layers. This was clear in columns packed with high CEC-containing soils (LSL and LSH) where AgNP particle size decreased more substantially than in the columns packed with sand. However, the decrease in AgNP sizes in the effluent water was less than the decrease in particle size of AgNPs transported through but retained in the soil. This means that the AgNPs that reached the effluent were transported directly from the first layer through the soil macropores. This work highlights the ability to track AgNPs at low concentrations (50 μg kg−1) and monitor the changes in particle size potential as the particles leach through soil all of which increases our knowledge about AgNP transport mechanisms in porous media.
- Silver nanoparticles