The size, surface area, metal complexation capacity, organic pollutant sorption potential, reactivity with disinfectants, and elevated nitrogen content of biogenic organic nanoscale material (BONM) can potentially affect aquatic environments. BONM in effluents from 11 full-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), which use a range of biological processes, were characterized in two ways. First, BONM was measured by hydrodynamic size-exclusion chromatography coupled with an online organic carbon and UV detector. Second, BONM was isolated from the wastewater using rotary evaporation and dialysis and then characterized by elemental analysis, transmission electron microscopy, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The wastewaters contained 6-10 mg/L of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). BONM accounted for 5%-50% of the DOC in wastewater effluent organic matter, and the largest size fraction (>10 kDa) of organic carbon correlated with the organic carbon content determined after rotary evaporation and dialysis. Membrane bioreactor WWTPs had the lowest fraction of BONM (<10% of the DOC), followed by conventional activated sludge (10% to 30% of the DOC), with other processes (e.g., trickling filters, aerated lagoons) containing larger BONM percentages. BONM had a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio (6.2 ± 1.7) compared with the literature values for humic or fulvic acids, exhibited chemical bonds that were indicative of amides and polysaccharides, and contained fibril entangled networks. This work has important implications for operations efficiency of WWTPs, including controlling membrane fouling and release of organic nitrogen into sensitive environments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry