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Impact of engineered nanoparticles on microbial transformations of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in wastewater treatment processes – A review

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Concern regarding the potential negative impacts of released engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) on pollutant removal performance of wastewater treatment systems has received booming attention in recent years. However, the conclusions drawn from different studies often lead to fragmented overall knowledge, some of which are even contradictory. This scenario shows the necessity for a comprehensive review of the interactions of ENPs in wastewater treatment systems, particularly on the impacts of ENPs on microbial processes of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) removal in water treatment systems. This review introduced the impact of 6 often reported ENPs in 5 types of treatment systems. We found that exposure to most of the investigated ENPs at low concentrations doesn't adversely influence the growth of the heterotrophic microbes, which are responsible for organic matter removal. The impacts of ENPs on various microbial nitrogen transformation processes have been investigated. Dosing of ENPs often causes acute microbial nitrogen removal inhibition at various concentrations, but does not influence long-term operation due to microbial adaption. No significant negative effects on biological phosphorus removal in different wastewater treatment processes have been reported after both short-term and long-term exposure (except copper nanoparticles). Environmentally relevant concentrations of ENPs have been reported to enhance the photosynthetic capacity of wetland plants, whereas chronic inhibition to photosynthesis was found in exposure to high concentrations of ENPs. Inhibition effects are often overestimated in pure cultivated toxicity test assays compared to testing with artificially prepared wastewater containing various ingredients or with real wastewater. Potential ligands in real wastewater can bind with ENPs and lower their dissolution. Some challenges exist regarding detection and quantification techniques of ENPs at environmental concentrations, modeling of engineered nanomaterial release on a worldwide scale, and inhibitory mechanisms to microbial transformations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Pages (from-to)1144-1154
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

    Research areas

  • Engineered nanoparticles, Exposure, Inhibitory effect, Microbial processes, Wastewater treatment

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