Microplastics have become a significant environmental problem worldwide. Compared with microplastics, nanoplastics are apparently more abundant and harmful but their environmental processes are less well understood. The fate and ecological impacts of nanoplastics in aquatic environments are largely determined by their aggregation properties, which were investigated here using pure water and artificial seawater prepared in the laboratory, as well as river water and coastal seawater collected from subtropical Hong Kong. The tests were carried out at an environmentally realistic temperature range (15–35 °C) with particle concentrations over four orders of magnitude (0.1–100 mg L−1). Under these experimental conditions, parameters of dynamic light scattering were used to determine the extent of aggregation and colloidal stability of polystyrene nanospheres (nPS), a common test model of nanoplastics. Our results showed that aggregation of nPS was minimal in pure water and river water, but became strong under the ionic strength of artificial seawater and coastal seawater, in which 70 nm nPS could aggregate to > 2000 nm, and this aggregation clearly increased with increase in temperature and particle concentration. The aggregates with increasing size and decreasing colloidal stability were deposited more quickly. Findings from this study imply an increased risk of nanoplastics to marine benthic organisms through the aggregation and deposition processes, particularly in warmer waters.
- Colloidal stability
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal