Precipitation and growth of zinc sulfide nanoparticles in the presence of thiol-containing natural organic ligands.
In sulfidic aquatic systems, metal sulfides can control the mobility and bioavailability of trace metal pollutants such as zinc, mercury, and silver. Nanoparticles of ZnS and other metal sulfides are known to exist in oxic and anoxic waters. However, the processes that lead to their persistence in the aquatic environment are relatively unknown. The objective of this study was to evaluate the importance of dissolved natural organics in stabilizing nanoparticulate ZnS that precipitates under environmentally relevant conditions. Precipitation and growth of ZnS particles were investigated in the presence of dissolved humic acid and low-molecular weight organic acids that are prevalent in sediment porewater. Dynamic light scattering was used to monitor the hydrodynamic diameter of particles precipitating in laboratory solutions. Zn speciation was also measured by filtering the ZnS solutions (< 0.2 microm) and using anodic stripping voltammetry to confirm that Zn was coordinated to sulfide during the precipitation experiments and not to the dissolved organic ligands. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and electron microscopy were used to confirm that amorphous particles containing Zn and S were precipitating in the suspensions. Observed growth rates of ZnS particles varied by orders of magnitude, depending on the type and concentration of organic ligand in solution. In the presence of humic acid and thiol-containing ligands (cysteine, glutathione, and thioglycolate), observed growth rates decreased by 1-3 orders of magnitude relative to controls without the ligands. In contrast, growth rates of the particles were consistently within 1 order of magnitude of the ligand-free control when oxygen- and amine-containing ligands (oxalate, serine, and glycolate) were present Furthermore, particle growth rates decreased with an increase in thiol concentration and increased with NaNO3 electrolyte concentration. These studies suggest that specific surface interactions with thiol-containing organics may be one factor that contributes to the persistence of naturally occurring and anthropogenic nanoparticles of ZnS and other metal sulfides in the aquatic environment.
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