Copper Nanoparticle Induced Cytotoxicity to Nitrifying Bacteria in Wastewater Treatment: A Mechanistic Copper Speciation Study by X‑ray Absorption Spectroscopy

With the inclusion of engineered nanomaterials in industrial processes and consumer products, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) could serve as a major sink for these emerging contaminants. Previous research has demonstrated that nanomaterials are potentially toxic to microbial communities utilized in biological wastewater treatment (BWT). Copper-based nanoparticles (CuNPs) are of particular interest based on their increasing use in wood treatment, paints, household products, coatings, and byproducts of semiconductor manufacturing. A critical step in BWT is nutrient removal through nitrification. This study examined the potential toxicity of uncoated and polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP)-coated CuO, and Cu<sub>2</sub>O nanoparticles, as well as Cu ions to microbial communities responsible for nitrification in BWT. Inhibition was inferred from changes to the specific oxygen uptake rate (sOUR) in the absence and presence of Cu ions and CuNPs. X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy, with linear combination fitting (LCF), was utilized to track changes to Cu speciation throughout exposure. Results indicate that the dissolution of Cu ions from CuNPs drive microbial inhibition. The presence of a PVP coating on CuNPs has little effect on inhibition. LCF analysis of the biomass combined with metal partitioning analysis supports the current hypothesis that Cu-induced cytotoxicity is primarily caused by reactive oxygen species formed from ionic Cu in solution via catalytic reaction intermediated by reduced Cu­(I) species.