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Co-contaminant Transport: Nanoplastics as vectors for organic chemical contamination

This project is in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Farner (Environmental Engineering) and Dr. Greg Goss (Biological Sciences) and is focused on assessing nanoplastics exposure to aquatic organisms and their implications on the co-contaminant transport. The Arlos Research Group's role is to identify several mechanisms of organic contaminant sorption to nanoplastics and correlate them with their physico-chemical properties. This project is funded by the IKPP (Environment and Climate Change Canada). 



Nanoplastics are plastic fragments less than 1000 nm and are a growing concern within the plastic pollution crisis. They have distinct properties that differ from bulk plastics because of their size, large surface area-to-volume ratio, and their potential to disrupt biological processes once ingested. These particles can be further transported at larger distances and can be carriers for other pollutants via the “Trojan Horse” mechanism. This co-contaminant transport and uptake raise a concern as pollutants bound to nanoplastics can have a larger effect than they would on their own.  Hence, understanding the role of nanoplastics as vectors for organic contaminants is crucial for formulating effective strategies to mitigate their adverse effects on aquatic organisms and human health. The Arlos Research Group evaluated the adsorption of two different-sized polystyrene nanoplastics (PSNPs) (500 and 20 nm) with various trace organic substances in four types of water matrices. The sorption of plant protection products (glyphosate, methyl parathion), an antidepressant (fluoxetine), a ubiquitous industrial chemical (perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA]) and a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (phenanthrene) to commercially available polystyrene PSNPs was measured via radiolabeled techniques. The impacts of pH changes, low and high amounts of natural organic matter (NOM), and tertiary-treated wastewater effluent (pre- and post-UV treatment) on sorption were further evaluated.

Related Publications

Nurain, A., 2023. Sorption Behavior of Trace Organic Chemicals on Nanoplastics and their Implications on Co-contaminant Transport.


IKPP Environment and Climate Change Canada
NSERC Discovery Grant
CEE Graduate Teaching Assistantship

Afrida Nurain (MSc, graduated)
Demi Meier (Research Assistant)


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