Yttrium residues in MWCNT enable assessment of MWCNT removal duringwastewater treatment

Justin Kidd, Yuqiang Bi, David Hanigan, Pierre Herckes, Paul Westerho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Many analytical techniques have limited sensitivity to quantify multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) at environmentally relevant exposure concentrations in wastewaters. We found that trace metals (e.g., Y, Co, Fe) used in MWCNT synthesis correlated with MWCNT concentrations. Because of low background yttrium (Y) concentrations in wastewater, Y was used to track MWCNT removal by wastewater biomass. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging and dissolution studies indicated that the residual trace metals were strongly embedded within the MWCNTs. For our specific MWCNT, Y concentration in MWCNTs was 76 μg g-1, and single particle mode inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (spICP-MS) was shown viable to detect Y-associated MWCNTs. The detection limit of the specific MWCNTs was 0.82 μg L-1 using Y as a surrogate, compared with >100 μg L-1 for other techniques applied forMWCNTquantification in wastewater biomass. MWCNT removal at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) was assessed by dosing MWCNTs (100 μg L-1) in water containing a range of biomass concentrations obtained from wastewater return activated sludge (RAS) collected from a local WWTP. Using high volume to surface area reactors (to limit artifacts of MWCNT loss due to adsorption to vessel walls) and adding 5 g L-1 of total suspended solids (TSS) of RAS (3-h mixing) reduced the MWCNT concentrations from 100 μg L-1 to 2 μg L-1. The results provide an environmentally relevant insight into the fate of MWCNTs across their end of life cycle and aid in regulatory permits that require estimates of engineered nanomaterial removal at WWTPs upon accidental release into sewers from manufacturing facilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number670
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • ICP-MS
  • MWCNTs
  • RAS
  • SpICP-MS
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Yttrium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Materials Science


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