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Publications in peer reviewed journals

22 Publications found
  • About “Controls” in Pollution-Ecology Experiments in the Anthropocene

    Matthias C. Rillig, Shin Woong Kim, Andreas Schäffer, Gabriel Sigmund, Ksenia J. Groh, Zhanyun Wang
    2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., 56: 11928-11930


    Controls are an essential component of experimental design, serving the purpose of accounting for all aspects of an experimental treatment except for the factor(s) under investigation in any given study. Especially in pollution ecology, proper controls are essential for attributing effects, describing dose–response relationships, and assessing risks. We here highlight that the interpretation of and communication about controls have become more complex, given the ubiquitous presence in the environment of a large number of anthropogenic factors, in part simultaneously affecting ecosystems. We therefore recommend a more conscious use of language when discussing effects in environmental matrices such as soil, water, or air.

  • Broaden chemicals scope in biodiversity targets

    Gabriel Sigmund, Marlene Ågerstrand, Tomas Brodin, Miriam L. Diamond, Walter R. Erdelen, David C. Evers, Adelene Lai, Matthias C. Rillig, Andreas Schäffer, Anna Soehl, João Paulo M. Torres, Zhanyun Wang, Ksenia J. Groh
    2022 - Science, 376: 1280


    On 21 June, the next round of negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework will be held in Nairobi. In the draft document listing 21 targets, target 7 addresses chemical pollution by explicitly mentioning nutrients, pesticides, and plastic waste. Limiting this target’s scope to these three groups does not do justice to the immense variety of anthropogenic chemicals polluting the environment, which also include, for example, toxic metals, industrial chemicals, chemicals from consumer products, and pharmaceuticals, as well as the (often unknown) transformation products of substances from each group. We urge the negotiators to broaden the scope of target 7 to reflect the complexity of chemical pollution.

  • Comparing biochar and hydrochar for reducing the risk of organic contaminants in polluted river sediments used for growing energy crops

    Snežana Maletić, Marijana Kragulj Isakovski, Gabriel Sigmund, Thilo Hofmann, Thorsten Hüffer, Jelena Beljin, Srđan Rončević
    2022 - Science of The Total Environment, 843: in press


    In Europe alone, >200 million m3 of river sediments are dredged each year, part of which are contaminated to such an extent that they have to be landfilled. This study compares the use of biochar and hydrochar for the remediation of sediment contaminated with pentachlorobenzene, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, trifluralin, alachlor, simazine, and atrazine with the motivation to make sediments contaminated by such priority substances usable as arable land for growing energy crops. Biochar and hydrochar originating from Miscanthus giganteus and Beta vulgaris shreds were compared for their potential to reduce contaminant associated risk in sediments. Specifically, by investigating the effects of sorbent amendment rate (1, 5, and 10 %) and incubation time (14, 30, and 180 d) on contaminant bioaccessibility, toxicity to the bacteria Vibrio fischeri, as well as toxicity and plant uptake in Zea mays. Biochar reduced contaminant bioaccessibility up to five times more than hydrochar. The bioaccessibility of contaminants decreased up to sevenfold with increasing incubation time, indicating that the performance of carbonaceous sorbents may be underestimated in short-term lab experiments. Biochar reduced contaminants toxicity to Vibrio fischeri, whereas hydrochar was itself toxic to the bacteria. Toxicity to Zea mays was determined by contaminant bioaccessibility but also sorbent feedstock with cellulose rich Beta vulgaris based sorbents exhibiting toxic effects. The plant uptake of all contaminants decreased after sorbent amendment.

  • Demystifying mercury geochemistry in contaminated soil–groundwater systems with complementary mercury stable isotope, concentration, and speciation analyses

    David S. McLagan, Lorenz Schwab, Jan G. Wiederhold, Lu Chen, Jan Pietrucha, Stephan M. Kraemer, Harald Biester
    2022 - Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, 9: 1406-1429


    Interpretation of mercury (Hg) geochemistry in environmental systems remains a challenge. This is largely associated with the inability to identify specific Hg transformation processes and species using established analytical methods in Hg geochemistry (total Hg and Hg speciation). In this study, we demonstrate the improved Hg geochemical interpretation, particularly related to process tracing, that can be achieved when Hg stable isotope analyses are complemented by a suite of more established methods and applied to both solid- (soil) and liquid-phases (groundwater) across two Hg2+-chloride (HgCl2) contaminated sites with distinct geological and physicochemical properties. This novel approach allowed us to identify processes such as Hg2+ (i.e., HgCl2) sorption to the solid-phase, Hg2+ speciation changes associated with changes in groundwater level and redox conditions (particularly in the upper aquifer and capillary fringe), Hg2+ reduction to Hg0, and dark abiotic redox equilibration between Hg0 and Hg(II). Hg stable isotope analyses play a critical role in our ability to distinguish, or trace, these in situ processes. While we caution against the non-critical use of Hg isotope data for source tracing in environmental systems, due to potentially variable source signatures and overprinting by transformation processes, our study demonstrates the benefits of combining multiple analytical approaches, including Hg isotope ratios as a process tracer, to obtain an improved picture of the enigmatic geochemical behavior and fate of Hg at contaminated legacy sites.

  • Effect of Polymer Properties on the Biodegradation of Polyurethane Microplastics

    Patrizia Pfohl, Daniel Bahl, Markus Rückel, Marion Wagner, Lars Meyer, Patrick Bolduan, Glauco Battagliarin, Thorsten Hüffer, Michael Zumstein, Thilo Hofmann, Wendel Wohlleben
    2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., in press


    The release of fragments from plastic products, that is, secondary microplastics, is a major concern in the context of the global plastic pollution. Currently available (thermoplastic) polyurethanes [(T)PU] are not biodegradable and therefore should be recycled. However, the ester bond in (T)PUs might be sufficiently hydrolysable to enable at least partial biodegradation of polyurethane particles. Here, we investigated biodegradation in compost of different types of (T)PU to gain insights into their fragmentation and biodegradation mechanisms. The studied (T)PUs varied regarding the chemistry of their polymer backbone (aromatic/aliphatic), hard phase content, cross-linking degree, and presence of a hydrolysis-stabilizing additive. We developed and validated an efficient and non-destructive polymer particle extraction process for partially biodegraded (T)PUs based on ultrasonication and density separation. Our results showed that biodegradation rates and extents decreased with increasing cross-linking density and hard-segment content. We found that the presence of a hydrolysis stabilizer reduced (T)PU fragmentation while not affecting the conversion of (T)PU carbon into CO2. We propose a biodegradation mechanism for (T)PUs that includes both mother particle shrinkage by surface erosion and fragmentation. The presented results help to understand structure–degradation relationships of (T)PUs and support recycling strategies.

  • Environmental Biodegradation of Water-Soluble Polymers: Key Considerations and Ways Forward

    Michael Zumstein, Glauco Battagliarin, Andreas Kuenkel, Michael Sander
    2022 - Accounts of Chemical Research, 55: 2163–2167


    Water-soluble polymers (WSPs) have unique properties that are valuable in diverse applications ranging from home and personal care products to agricultural formulations. For applications that result in the release of WSPs into natural environments or engineered systems, such as agricultural soils and wastewater streams, biodegradable as opposed to nonbiodegradable WSPs have the advantage of breaking down and, thereby, eliminating the risk of persistence and accumulation. In this Commentary, we emphasize central steps in WSP biodegradation, discuss how these steps depend on both WSP properties and characteristics of the receiving environment, and highlight critical requirements for testing WSP biodegradability.

  • Exploring Nanogeochemical Environments: New Insights from Single Particle ICP-TOFMS and AF4-ICPMS

    Manuel D. Montaño, Chad W. Cuss, Haley M. Holliday, Muhammad B. Javed, William Shotyk, Kathryn L. Sobocinski, Thilo Hofmann, Frank von der Kammer, James F. Ranville
    2022 - ACS Earth & Space Chemistry, 6: 943–952


    Nanogeochemistry is an emerging focus area recognizing the role of nanoparticles in Earth systems. Engineered nanotechnology has cultivated advanced analytical techniques that are also applicable to nanogeochemistry. Single particle inductively coupled plasma ICP-time-of-flight-mass spectrometry (ICP-TOF-MS) promises a significant step forward, as time-of-flight mass analyzers enable simultaneous quantification of the entire atomic mass spectrum (∼7–250 m/z+). To demonstrate the utility of this approach, samples were collected and analyzed from a large, boreal river, and its surrounding tributaries. These samples provided us with a diversity of particle compositions and morphologies, while their interconnected nature allowed for an examination of the various nanogeochemical processes present in this system. To further expand on this effort, we combined this high-throughput technique with AF4-ICPMS, focusing on major carriers of trace elements. Using spICP-TOF-MS, Al, Si, and Fe were grouped into classes having all combinations of one or more of these elements. Particle-by-particle ICP-TOF-MS analysis found chemically heterogeneous populations, indicating the predominance of diverse mineralogy or heteroaggregates. The importance of suspended Fe and Mn for the speciation of Pb was observed by single particle ICP-TOF-MS and complemented by AF4-ICPMS analysis of dissolved organic matter and nanoparticulate Fe/Mn. Our study exploits the combination of spICP-TOF-MS and AF4-ICP-MS for studying isotopic and elemental ratios (mineralogy) of individual nanoparticles, which opens the door to further explore the mechanisms of colloid facilitated transport of trace elements.

  • Freshwater suspended particulate matter—Key components and processes in floc formation and dynamics

    2022 - Water Research, 220: in press


    Freshwater suspended particulate matter (SPM) plays an important role in many biogeochemical cycles and serves multiple ecosystem functions. Most SPM is present as complex floc-like aggregate structures composed of various minerals and organic matter from the molecular to the organism level. Flocs provide habitat for microbes and feed for larger organisms. They constitute microbial bioreactors, with prominent roles in carbon and inorganic nutrient cycles, and transport nutrients as well as pollutants, affecting sediments, inundation zones, and the ocean. Composition, structure, size, and concentration of SPM flocs are subject to high spatiotemporal variability. Floc formation processes and compositional or morphological dynamics can be established around three functional components: phyllosilicates, iron oxides/(oxy)hydroxides (FeOx), and microbial extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). These components and their interactions increase heterogeneity in surface properties, enhancing flocculation. Phyllosilicates exhibit intrinsic heterogeneities in surface charge and hydrophobicity. They are preferential substrates for precipitation or attachment of reactive FeOx. FeOx form patchy coatings on minerals, especially on phyllosilicates, which increase surface charge heterogeneities. Both, phyllosilicates and FeOx strongly adsorb natural organic matter (NOM), preferentially certain EPS. EPS comprise various substances with heterogeneous properties that make them a sticky mixture, enhancing flocculation. Microbial metabolism, and thus EPS release, is supported by the high adsorption capacity and favorable nutrient composition of phyllosilicates, and FeOx supply essential Fe.

  • Generation of Reproducible Model Freshwater Particulate Matter Analogues to Study the Interaction with Particulate Contaminants.

    Helene Walch, Antonia Praetorius, Frank von der Kammer, Thilo Hofmann
    2022 - Water Research, in press


    Aquatic fate models and risk assessment require experimental information on the potential of contaminants to interact with riverine suspended particulate matter (SPM). While for dissolved contaminants partition or sorption coefficients are used, the underlying assumption of chemical equilibrium is invalid for particulate contaminants, such as engineered nanomaterials, incidental nanoparticles, micro- or nanoplastics. Their interactions with SPM are governed by physicochemical forces between contaminant-particle and SPM surfaces. The availability of a standard SPM material is thus highly relevant for the development of reproducible test systems to evaluate the fate of particulate contaminants in aquatic systems. Finding suitable SPM analogues, however, is challenging considering the complex composition of natural SPM, which features floc-like structures comprising minerals and organic components from the molecular to the microorganism level. Complex composition comes with a heterogeneity in physicochemical surface properties, that cannot be neglected. We developed a procedure to generate SPM analogue flocs from components selected to represent the most abundant and crucial constituents of natural riverine SPM, and the process-relevant SPM surface characteristics regarding interactions with particulate contaminants. Four components, i.e., illite, hematite, quartz and tryptophan, combined at environmentally realistic mass-ratios, were associated to complex flocs. Flocculation was reproducible regarding floc size and fractal dimension, and multiple tests on floc resilience towards physical impacts (agitation, sedimentation-storage-resuspension, dilution) and hydrochemical changes (pH, electrolytes, dissolved organic matter concentration) confirmed their robustness. These reproducible, ready-to-use SPM analogue flocs will strongly support future research on emerging particulate contaminants.

  • Getting in control of persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT) and very persistent and very mobile (vPvM) substances to protect water resources: strategies from diverse perspectives

    Sarah E. Hale, Michael Neumann, Ivo Schliebner, Jona Schulze, Frauke S. Averbeck, Claudia Castell-Exner, Marie Collard, Dunja Drmač, Julia Hartmann, Roberta Hofman-Caris, Juliane Hollender, Martin de Jonge, Thomas Kullick, Anna Lennquist, Thomas Letzel, Karsten Nödler, Sascha Pawlowski, Ninja Reineke, Emiel Rorije, Marco Scheurer, Gabriel Sigmund, Harrie Timmer, Xenia Trier, Eric Verbruggen, Hans Peter H. Arp
    2022 - Environmental Sciences Europe, 34: in press



    Safe and clean drinking water is essential for human life. Persistent, mobile and toxic (PMT) substances and/or very persistent and very mobile (vPvM) substances are an important group of substances for which additional measures to protect water resources may be needed to avoid negative environmental and human health effects. PMT/vPvM substances do not sufficiently biodegrade in the environment, they can travel long distances with water and are toxic (those that are PMT substances) to the environment and/or human health. PMT/vPvM substance research and regulation is arguably in its infancy and in order to get in control of these substances the following (non-exhaustive list of) knowledge gaps should to be addressed: environmental occurrence; the suitability of currently available analytical methods; the effectiveness and availability of treatment technologies; the ability of regional governance and industrial stewardship to contribute to safe drinking water while supporting innovation; the ways in which policies and regulations can be used most effectively to govern these substances; and, the identification of safe and sustainable alternatives.


    The work is the outcome of the third PMT workshop, held in March 2021, that brought together diverse scientists, regulators, NGOs, and representatives from the water sector and the chemical sector, all concerned with protecting the quality of our water resources. The online workshop was attended by over 700 people. The knowledge gaps above were discussed in the presentations given and the attendees were invited to provide their opinions about knowledge gaps related to PMT/vPvM substance research and regulation.


    Strategies to closing the knowledge, technical and practical gaps to get in control of PMT/vPvM substances can be rooted in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic Free Environment from the European Commission, as well as recent advances in the research and industrial stewardship. Key to closing these gaps are: (i) advancing remediation and removal strategies for PMT/vPvM substances that are already in the environment, however this is not an effective long-term strategy; (ii) clear and harmonized definitions of PMT/vPvM substances across diverse European and international legislations; (iii) ensuring wider availability of analytical methods and reference standards; (iv) addressing data gaps related to persistence, mobility and toxicity of chemical substances, particularly transformation products and those within complex substance mixtures; and (v) advancing monitoring and risk assessment tools for stewardship and regulatory compliance. The two most effective ways to get in control were identified to be source control through risk governance efforts, and enhancing market incentives for alternatives to PMT/vPvM substances by using safe and sustainable by design strategies.

  • Identifying Functional Groups that Determine Rates of Micropollutant Biotransformations Performed by Wastewater Microbial Communities

    Stephanie L. Rich, Michael Zumstein, Damian E. Helbling
    2022 - Environmental Science & Technology, 56: 984–994


    The goal of this research was to identify functional groups that determine rates of micropollutant (MP) biotransformations performed by wastewater microbial communities. To meet this goal, we performed a series of incubation experiments seeded with four independent wastewater microbial communities and spiked them with a mixture of 40 structurally diverse MPs. We collected samples over time and used high-resolution mass spectrometry to estimate biotransformation rate constants for each MP in each experiment and to propose structures of 46 biotransformation products. We then developed random forest models to classify the biotransformation rate constants based on the presence of specific functional groups or observed biotransformations. We extracted classification importance metrics from each random forest model and compared them across wastewater microbial communities. Our analysis revealed 30 functional groups that we define as either biotransformation promoters, biotransformation inhibitors, structural features that can be biotransformed based on uncharacterized features of the wastewater microbial community, or structural features that are not rate-determining. Our experimental data and analysis provide novel insights into MP biotransformations that can be used to more accurately predict MP biotransformations or to inform the design of new chemical products that may be more readily biodegradable during wastewater treatment.

  • Internal tree cycling and atmospheric archiving of mercury: examination with concentration and stable isotope analyses

    David S. McLagan, Harald Biester, Tomas Navrátil, Stephan M. Kraemer, Lorenz Schwab
    2022 - Biogeosciences, 19: 4415-4429


    Trees predominantly take up mercury (Hg) from the atmosphere via stomatal assimilation of gaseous elemental Hg (GEM). Hg is oxidised in leaves/needles and transported to other tree anatomy including bole wood, where it can be stored long-term. Using Hg associated with growth rings facilitates archiving of historical GEM concentrations. Nonetheless, there are significant knowledge gaps on the cycling of Hg within trees. We investigate Hg archived in tree rings, internal tree Hg cycling, and differences in Hg uptake mechanisms in Norway spruce and European larch sampled within 1 km of a HgCl2-contaminated site using total Hg (THg) and Hg stable isotope analyses. Tree ring samples are indicative of significant increases in THg concentrations (up to 521 µg kg−1) from the background period (BGP; facility closed; 1992–present) to secondary industrial period (2ndIP; no HgCl2 wood treatment; 1962–1992) to primary industrial period (1stIP; active HgCl2 wood treatment; ≈ 1900–1962). Mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) Hg stable isotope data are shifted negative during industrial periods (δ202Hg of 1stIP: −4.32 ± 0.15 ‰, 2ndIP: −4.04 ± 0.32 ‰, BGP: −2.83 ± 0.74 ‰; 1 SD). Even accounting for a ≈ −2.6 ‰ MDF shift associated with stomatal uptake, these data are indicative of emissions derived from industrial activity being enriched in lighter isotopes associated with HgCl2 reduction and Hg0 volatilisation. Similar MDF (δ202Hg: −3.90 ± 0.30 ‰; 1 SD) in bark Hg (137 ± 105 µg kg−1) suggests that stomatal assimilation and downward transport is also the dominant uptake mechanism for bark Hg (reflective of negative stomatal-uptake MDF shift) rather than deposition to bark. THg was enriched in sapwood of all sampled trees across both tree species. This may indicate long-term storage of a fraction of Hg in sapwood or xylem solution. We also observed a small range of odd-isotope mass-independent fractionation (MIF). Differences in Δ199Hg between periods of different industrial activities were significant (Δ199Hg of 1stIP: 0.00 ± 0.03 ‰, 2ndIP: −0.06 ± 0.04 ‰, BGP: −0.13 ± 0.03 ‰; 1 SD), and we suggest MIF signatures are conserved during stomatal assimilation (reflect source MIF signatures). These data advance our understanding of the physiological processing of Hg within trees and provide critical direction to future research into the use of trees as archives for historical atmospheric Hg.

  • Iron Nitride Nanoparticles for Enhanced Reductive Dechlorination of Trichloroethylene

    Miroslav Brumovský, Jana Oborná, Vesna Micić, Ondřej Malina, Josef Kašlík, Daniel Tunega, Miroslav Kolos, Thilo Hofmann, František Karlický, Jan Filip
    2022 - Environmental Science & Technology, 56: 4425-4436


    Nitriding has been used for decades to improve the corrosion resistance of iron and steel materials. Moreover, iron nitrides (FexN) have been shown to give an outstanding catalytic performance in a wide range of applications. We demonstrate that nitriding also substantially enhances the reactivity of zerovalent iron nanoparticles (nZVI) used for groundwater remediation, alongside reducing particle corrosion. Two different types of FexN nanoparticles were synthesized by passing gaseous NH3/N2 mixtures over pristine nZVI at elevated temperatures. The resulting particles were composed mostly of face-centered cubic (γ′-Fe4N) and hexagonal close-packed (ε-Fe2–3N) arrangements. Nitriding was found to increase the particles’ water contact angle and surface availability of iron in reduced forms. The two types of FexN nanoparticles showed a 20- and 5-fold increase in the trichloroethylene (TCE) dechlorination rate, compared to pristine nZVI, and about a 3-fold reduction in the hydrogen evolution rate. This was related to a low energy barrier of 27.0 kJ mol–1 for the first dechlorination step of TCE on the γ′-Fe4N(001) surface, as revealed by density functional theory calculations with an implicit solvation model. TCE dechlorination experiments with aged particles showed that the γ′-Fe4N nanoparticles retained high reactivity even after three months of aging. This combined theoretical-experimental study shows that FexN nanoparticles represent a new and potentially important tool for TCE dechlorination.

  • Ligand-Induced U Mobilization from Chemogenic Uraninite and Biogenic Noncrystalline U(IV) under Anoxic Conditions

    Kyle J. Chardi, Anshuman Satpathy, Walter D. C. Schenkeveld*, Naresh Kumar, Vincent Noël, Stephan M. Kraemer, and Daniel E. Giammar
    2022 - Environmental Science and Technology, 56: 6369–6379


    Microbial reduction of soluble hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) to sparingly soluble tetravalent uranium (U(IV)) has been explored as an in situ strategy to immobilize U. Organic ligands might pose a potential hindrance to the success of such remediation efforts. In the current study, a set of structurally diverse organic ligands were shown to enhance the dissolution of crystalline uraninite (UO2) for a wide range of ligand concentrations under anoxic conditions at pH 7.0. Comparisons were made to ligand-induced U mobilization from noncrystalline U(IV). For both U phases, aqueous U concentrations remained low in the absence of organic ligands (<25 nM for UO2; 300 nM for noncrystalline U(IV)). The tested organic ligands (2,6-pyridinedicarboxylic acid (DPA), desferrioxamine B (DFOB), N,N′-di(2-hydroxybenzyl)ethylene-diamine-N,N′-diacetic acid (HBED), and citrate) enhanced U mobilization to varying extents. Over 45 days, the ligands mobilized only up to 0.3% of the 370 μM UO2, while a much larger extent of the 300 μM of biomass-bound noncrystalline U(IV) was mobilized (up to 57%) within only 2 days (>500 times more U mobilization). This work shows the potential of numerous organic ligands present in the environment to mobilize both recalcitrant and labile U forms under anoxic conditions to hazardous levels and, in doing so, undermine the stability of immobilized U(IV) sources.

  • Mercury Removal from Contaminated Water by Wood-Based Biochar Depends on Natural Organic Matter and Ionic Composition

    Sampriti Chaudhuri, Gabriel Sigmund, Sharon E. Bone, Naresh Kumar, Thilo Hofmann
    2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., 56: 11354–11362


    Biochars can remove potentially toxic elements, such as inorganic mercury [Hg(II)] from contaminated waters. However, their performance in complex water matrices is rarely investigated, and the combined roles of natural organic matter (NOM) and ionic composition in the removal of Hg(II) by biochar remain unclear. Here, we investigate the influence of NOM and major ions such as chloride (Cl-), nitrate (NO3-), calcium (Ca2+), and sodium (Na+) on Hg(II) removal by a wood-based biochar (SWP700). Multiple sorption sites containing sulfur (S) were located within the porous SWP700. In the absence of NOM, Hg(II) removal was driven by these sites. Ca2+ bridging was important in enhancing removal of negatively charged Hg(II)-chloro complexes. In the presence of NOM, formation of soluble Hg-NOM complexes (as seen from speciation calculations), which have limited access to biochar pores, suppressed Hg(II) removal, but Cl- and Ca2+ could still facilitate it. The ability of Ca2+ to aggregate NOM, including Hg-NOM complexes, promoted Hg(II) removal from the dissolved fraction (<0.45 μm). Hg(II) removal in the presence of Cl- followed a stepwise mechanism. Weakly bound oxygen functional groups in NOM were outcompeted by Cl-, forming smaller-sized Hg(II)-chloro complexes, which could access additional intraparticle sorption sites. Therein, Cl- was outcompeted by S, which finally immobilized Hg(II) in SWP700 as confirmed by extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy. We conclude that in NOM containing oxic waters, with relatively high molar ratios of Cl-: NOM and Ca2+: NOM, Hg(II) removal can still be effective with SWP700.

  • Pharmaceutical pollution of the world’s rivers

    John L. Wilkinson, Alistair B. A. Boxall, Dana W. Kolpin, Kenneth M. Y. Leung, Racliffe W. S. Lai, Cristobal Galban-Malagon, Aiko D. Adell, Julie Mondon, Marc Metian, Robert A. Marchant, Alejandra Bouzas-Monroy, Aida Cuni-Sanchez, Anja Coors, Pedro Carriquiriborde, Macarena Rojo, Chris Gordon, Magdalena Cara, Monique Moermond, Thais Luarte, Vahagn Petrosyan, Yekaterina Perikhanyan, Clare S. Mahon, Christopher J. McGurk, Thilo Hofmann, Tapos Kormoker, Volga Iniguez, Jessica Guzman-Otazo, Jean L. Tavares, Francisco Gildasio De Figueiredo, Maria T. P. Razzolini, Victorien Dougnon, Gildas Gbaguidi, Oumar Traore, Jules M. Blais, Linda E. Kimpe, Michelle Wong, Donald Wong, Romaric Ntchantcho, Jaime Pizarro, Guang-Guo Ying, Chang-Er Chen, Martha Paez, Jina Martinez-Lara, Jean-Paul Otamonga, John Pote, Suspense A. Ifo, Penelope Wilson, Silvia Echeverria-Saenz, Nikolina Udikovic-Kolic, Milena Milakovic, Despo Fatta-Kassinos, Lida Ioannou-Ttofa, Vladimira Belusova, Jan Vymazal, Maria Cardenas-Bustamante, Bayable A. Kas
    2022 - PNAS, 119: e2113947119


    Environmental exposure to active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) can have negative effects on the health of ecosystems and humans. While numerous studies have monitored APIs in rivers, these employ different analytial methods, measure different APIs, and have ignored many of the countries of the world. This makes it difficult to quantify the scale of the problem from a global perspective. Furthermore, comparison of the existing data, generated for different studies/regions/continents, is challenging due to the vast differences between the analytical methodologies employed. Here, we present a global-scale study of API pollution in 258 of the world’s rivers, representing the environmental influence of 471.4 million people across 137 geographic regions. Samples were obtained from 1,052 locations in 104 countries (representing all continents and 36 countries not previously studied for API contamination) and analyzed for 61 APIs. Highest cumulative API concentrations were observed in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and South America. The most contaminated sites were in low- to middle-income countries and were associated with areas with poor wastewater and waste management infrastructure and pharmaceutical manufacturing. The most frequently detected APIs were carbamazepine, metformin, and caffeine (a compound also arising from lifestyle use), which were detected at over half of the sites monitored. Concentrations of at least one API at 25.7% of the sampling sites were greater than concentrations considered safe for aquatic organisms, or which are of concern in terms of selection for antimicrobial resistance. Therefore, pharmaceutical pollution poses a global threat to environmental and human health, as well as to delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Polyvinyl Chloride Microplastics Leach Phthalates into the Aquatic Environment over Decades

    Charlotte Henkel, Thorsten Hüffer, Thilo Hofmann
    2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., in press


    Phthalic acid esters (phthalates) have been detected everywhere in the environment, but data on leaching kinetics and the governing mass transfer process into aqueous systems remain largely unknown. In this study, we experimentally determined time-dependent leaching curves for three phthalates di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, di(2-ethylhexyl) terephthalate, and diisononyl phthalate from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) microplastics and thereby enabled a better understanding of their leaching kinetics. This is essential for exposure assessment and to predict microplastic-bound environmental concentrations of phthalates. Leaching curves were analyzed using models for intraparticle diffusion (IPD) and aqueous boundary layer diffusion (ABLD). We show that ABLD is the governing diffusion process for the continuous leaching of phthalates because phthalates are very hydrophobic (partitioning coefficients between PVC and water log KPVC/W were higher than 8.6), slowing down the diffusion through the ABL. Also, the diffusion coefficient in the polymer DPVC is relatively high (∼8 × 10–14 m2 s–1) and thus enhances IPD. Desorption half-lives of the studied PVC microplastics are greater than 500 years but can be strongly influenced by environmental factors. By combining leaching experiments and modeling, our results reveal that PVC microplastics are a long-term source of phthalates in the environment.

  • Rapid analysis of gunshot residues with single-particle inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry

    Robert Brünjes, Jan Schüürman, Frank von der Kammer, Thilo Hofmann
    2022 - Forensic Science International, 332: in press


    Gunshot residues (GSRs) from different types of ammunition have been characterized using a new method based on single-particle inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (sp-ICP-TOF-MS). This method can analyze thousands of particles per minute enabling rapid sample screening for GSR detection with minimal sample preparation. GSR particles are multi-elemental nanoparticles that are mainly defined by the elements lead, barium, and antimony. Sp-ICP-TOF-MS was also used to identify other elements contained in GSR particles while standard particle classification protocols do not consider the complexities of GSR compositions and can therefore miss out on valuable information. The proposed method can be used to support existing GSR detection methods, especially when lead-free, antimony-free, or tagged ammunition has been used; it also provides a possibility for multi-elemental fingerprinting of GSR particles.

  • Sorption and Mobility of Charged Organic Compounds: How to Confront and Overcome Limitations in Their Assessment

    Gabriel Sigmund, Hans Peter H. Arp, Benedikt M. Aumeier, Thomas D. Bucheli, Benny Chefetz, Wei Chen, Steven T. J. Droge, Satoshi Endo, Beate I. Escher, Sarah E. Hale, Thilo Hofmann, Joseph Pignatello, Thorsten Reemtsma, Torsten C. Schmidt, Carina D. Schönsee, Martin Scheringer
    2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., 56: 4702-2710


    Permanently charged and ionizable organic compounds (IOC) are a large and diverse group of compounds belonging to many contaminant classes, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and natural toxins. Sorption and mobility of IOCs are distinctively different from those of neutral compounds. Due to electrostatic interactions with natural sorbents, existing concepts for describing neutral organic contaminant sorption, and by extension mobility, are inadequate for IOC. Predictive models developed for neutral compounds are based on octanol–water partitioning of compounds (Kow) and organic-carbon content of soil/sediment, which is used to normalize sorption measurements (KOC). We revisit those concepts and their translation to IOC (Dow and DOC) and discuss compound and soil properties determining sorption of IOC under water saturated conditions. Highlighting possible complementary and/or alternative approaches to better assess IOC mobility, we discuss implications on their regulation and risk assessment. The development of better models for IOC mobility needs consistent and reliable sorption measurements at well-defined chemical conditions in natural porewater, better IOC-, as well as sorbent characterization. Such models should be complemented by monitoring data from the natural environment. The state of knowledge presented here may guide urgently needed future investigations in this field for researchers, engineers, and regulators.

  • Stormwater management in urban areas using dry gallery infiltration systems

    Miguel Angel Marazuela, Alejandro García-Gil, Juan C. Santamarta, Samanta Gasco-Cavero, Noelia Cruz-Pérez, Thilo Hofmann
    2022 - Science of The Total Environment, 823: 153705


    The increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events due to climate change, together with the continuous development of cities and surface sealing that hinder water infiltration into the subsoil, is accelerating the search for new facilities to manage stormwater. The Canary Islands (Spain) are taking advantage of the knowledge acquired in the construction of water mines to exploit a novel stormwater management facility, which we have defined as a dry gallery. Dry galleries are constituted by a vertical well connected to a horizontal gallery dug into highly permeable volcanic layers of the vadose zone, from where infiltration takes place. However, the lack of scientific knowledge about these facilities prevents them from being properly dimensioned and managed. In this work, we simulate for the first time the infiltration process and the wetting front propagation from dry galleries based on a 3D unsaturated flow model and provide some recommendations for the installation and sizing of these facilities. The fastest advance of the wetting front takes place during the earliest times of infiltration (<2 h), with plausible propagation velocities and infiltration rates higher than 1000 m∙d−1 and 2 m3∙s−1. As time progresses, the propagation velocity and infiltration rate decrease as a consequence of the hydraulic gradient attenuation between the gallery and the aquifer. Therefore, stormwater infiltration is a highly transient process in which a sizing underestimation of 100% may be committed if unsaturated conditions or geological configuration are neglected.

  • Towards Standardization for Determining Dissolution Kinetics of Nanomaterials in Natural Aquatic Environments: Continuous Flow Dissolution of Ag Nanoparticles

    Lucie Stetten, Aiga Mackevica, Nathalie Tepe, Thilo Hofmann, Frank von der Kammer
    2022 - Nanomaterials, 12: 519


    The dissolution of metal-based engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in aquatic environments is an important mechanism governing the release of toxic dissolved metals. For the registration of ENMs at regulatory bodies such as REACH, their dissolution behavior must therefore be assessed using standardized experimental approaches. To date, there are no standardized procedures for dissolution testing of ENMs in environmentally relevant aquatic media, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) strongly encourages their development into test guidelines. According to a survey of surface water hydrochemistry, we propose to use media with low concentrations of Ca2+ and Mg2+ for a better simulation of the ionic background of surface waters, at pH values representing acidic (5 < pH < 6) and near-neutral/alkaline (7 < pH < 8) waters. We evaluated a continuous flow setup adapted to expose small amounts of ENMs to aqueous media, to mimic ENMs in surface waters. For this purpose, silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) were used as model for soluble metal-bearing ENMs. Ag NPs were deposited onto a 10 kg.mol−1 membrane through the injection of 500 µL of a 5 mg.L−1 or 20 mg.L−1 Ag NP dispersion, in order to expose only a few micrograms of Ag NPs to the aqueous media. The dissolution rate of Ag NPs in 10 mM NaNO3 was more than two times higher for ~2 µg compared with ~8 µg of Ag NPs deposited onto the membrane, emphasizing the importance of evaluating the dissolution of ENMs at low concentrations in order to keep a realistic scenario. Dissolution rates of Ag NPs in artificial waters (2 mM Ca(NO3)2, 0.5 mM MgSO4, 0–5 mM NaHCO3) were also determined, proving the feasibility of the test using environmentally relevant media. In view of the current lack of harmonized methods, this work encourages the standardization of continuous flow dissolution methods toward OECD guidelines focused on natural aquatic environments, for systematic comparisons of nanomaterials and adapted risk assessments.

  • Tracking the legacy of early industrial activity in sediments of Lake Zurich, Switzerland: using a novel multi-proxy approach to find the source of extensive metal contamination

    Remo Luis Roethlin, Adrian Gilli, Bernhard Wehrli, Robin Sue Gilli, Jan Georg Wiederhold, Nathalie Dubois
    2022 - Environmental Science and Pollution Research, in press


    Historical industrial activities at the Horn Richterwil, on the shore of Lake Zurich (Switzerland), caused widespread metal contamination on land and in the adjacent lake sediments. This study provides an estimation of the age and source of the contamination by using XRF core scanning, ICP-OES, and Hg-AFS for quantitative measurements of trace metals and MC-ICP-MS for the stable isotope analysis of mercury. Radiometric dating ( 137Cs, 210Pb, and Pu dating) of two proximal cores and varve chronology in a distal core suggest two different contaminations, one stemming from around 1960 (Zn, Cd) and an earlier one from 1880 (Cr, Cu, Hg, Pb, Sn). The XRF data suggest two different contamination pathways: one by landfill of contaminated soil and another one by industrial wastewater effluents. Maximum concentrations found within all samples are in the range of per mil (dry weight) for Cr, Cu, Hg, Pb, Sn, and Zn and lie within the top 10 cm of the sediment cores. The analysis of the mercury isotopic composition ( 𝛿202 Hg and Δ199Hg) shows a significantly different signature for one of the cores, indicating a second mercury source. We could not identify the exact source or process leading to the isotopic fractionation of mercury, but the isotopic data confirm two different sources.

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