The crucial role of heavy metals on the interaction of engineered nanoparticles with polystyrene microplastics

Wai-Kit Ho, Kelvin Sze-Yin Leung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Despite continuous research on microplastics (MPs), studies exploring the complexity of interaction between MPs and other aqueous constituents in multi-solute systems are scarce. In this study, the uptake and release of nanoceria (CeNPs) by various polystyrene MPs (PSMPs) were investigated. Results showed that PSMPs in the presence of heavy metals (HMs) exhibited a substantially higher sorption affinity for isotropic charged CeNPs than PSMPs alone; this enhanced affinity was attributed to the formation of PSMP-HM-CeNP complexes. FE-SEM imaging reaffirmed that CeNP clusters adhered to PSMP surfaces in the presence of HMs. Such attachment varied dependent on valence state, atomic size of coexisting metal cations, surface texture, and functionalities of MPs. The HM-mediated complex formation on PSMP particles was suppressed at higher ionic strength because of competitive sorption and double-layer compression. Subsequent release of MP-adhered CeNPs and HMs varied significantly between aquatic media and various simulated digestive fluids, verifying the crucial role of MPs for transfer of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) from natural environments into biota via ingestion of MPs and trophic transfer. Our results highlight the enhanced potential for MPs to accumulate and to transport ENPs when metallic contaminants are present, which adds to the current understanding of the environmental fate and adverse effects of MPs along with various waterborne contaminants in actual environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117317
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

User-Defined Keywords

  • Bioaccessibility
  • Heavy metals
  • Microplastic
  • Multi-solute system
  • Nanoceria
  • Weathering


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