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Transformation and Fate of Nanomaterials During Wastewater Treatment and Incineration

EPA Grant Number: R834856
Title: Transformation and Fate of Nanomaterials During Wastewater Treatment and Incineration
Investigators: Marr, Linsey C. , Pruden, Amy
Institution: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
EPA Project Officer: Shapiro, Paul
Project Period: August 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $599,859
RFA: Increasing Scientific Data on the Fate, Transport and Behavior of Engineered Nanomaterials in Selected Environmental and Biological Matrices (2010)
Research Category: Nanotechnology



As nanotechnology-based products enter into widespread use, nanomaterials will end up in disposal waste streams that are ultimately discharged to the environment. Understanding how waste treatment may modify nanomaterials is critical to predicting the fate of nanomaterials in the environment. The overall objective of this research is to characterize the transformation and fate of engineered nanomaterials and by-products (e.g., trihalomethanes and dioxins) during biological wastewater treatment and incineration. Specific objectives are to (1) characterize nanomaterials before and after treatment to determine the physical and chemical transformations under biotic (wastewater treatment) or high-temperature, oxidative conditions (incineration), (2) determine the impact of nanomaterials on water chemistry and microbial community structure, particularly nitrifiers, during typical nitrifying activated sludge treatment, (3) quantify particle and hazardous pollutant emissions from the combustion of materials containing nanomaterials, (4) assess the fate of nanomaterials in wastewater effluent and incinerator exhaust, and (5) rank nanomaterials in terms of toxicity in each of the disposal streams.


State-of-the-art characterization tools will be used to quantify the physical, chemical, and biological changes in “nanowaste” streams as they undergo biological wastewater treatment and incineration in laboratory-scale reactors. Major research tasks encompass (1) surveying industrial and consumer use of nanotechnology to determine likely nanowaste types and characteristics, (2) processing nanowaste in nitrifying sequencing batch reactors and a combustion chamber, (3) characterizing changes in size, surface area, morphology, aggregation state, and chemical composition of nanomaterials and by-products, (4) assessing changes in the microbial population in nano-wastewater, (5) measuring the partitioning of nanomaterials between the aqueous phase and biosolids in nano-wastewater, (6) modeling the effectiveness of incinerator emissions controls for nanowaste, and (7) measuring the oxidative stress potential and mutagenicity of nanowaste treated effluent.

Expected Results:

This research will produce new data about the characteristics and fate of nanomaterials during biological wastewater treatment and incineration. Such knowledge is necessary for estimating exposure to nanomaterials and developing life cycle risk assessments of nanomaterials. Toxicity rankings produced by this study will allow researchers and risk managers to focus on the most hazardous types of nanomaterials. The disposal models of indefinite storage (e.g., nuclear waste) or environmental ubiquity (e.g., polychlorinated biphenyls) must be replaced with a more sustainable approach to disposal, and results from this research will provide the first step in this direction.

Supplemental Keywords:

incineration, wastewater treatment, disposal, life cycle, nanoparticles, fires

Progress and Final Reports:
2011 Progress Report

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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