A passive extraction method for the preservation of porewater metal nanoparticles formed in mining-impacted sediments
University of Idaho Seed Grant
Heavy metal contamination of the natural environment is a significant health risk to humans and wildlife, but our understanding of the formation of soluble heavy metals is limited. The weathering of metal-sulfide minerals brought to the surface because of mining can cause the formation of metal particles of various sizes that can be distributed in the natural environment through transport by water. The formation of the smallest particles — metal nanoparticles — are of great concern because of their ability to move with water through the spaces between sediments and their potential to be absorbed by living organisms. Unfortunately, evaluating the formation of metal nanoparticles in sediments is difficult because of our limited ability to extract the original nanoparticles from sediment porewater. Current methods of extraction can induce changes in pressure, gravity or chemistry, which can alter the nanoparticles. This alteration reduces our ability to interpret the formation of the nanoparticles and their characteristics that allow them to persist in the environment. The goal of this project is to evaluate a new extraction method for preserving metal nanoparticles with their removal from sediment porewater to assist with understanding metal transport in water and heavy metal contamination of the natural environment.