Multitechnique Investigation of the pH Dependence of Phosphate Induced Transformations of ZnO Nanoparticles

In order to properly evaluate the ecological and human health risks of ZnO manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs) released to the environment, it is critical to understand the likely transformation products in various environments, such as soils, surface and ground waters, and wastewater treatment processes. To address this knowledge gap, we examined the transformation of 30 nm ZnO MNMs in the presence of different concentrations of phosphate as a function of time and pH using a variety of orthogonal analytical techniques. The data reveal that ZnO MNMs react with phosphate at various concentrations and transform into two distinct morphological/structural phases: a micrometer scale crystalline zinc phosphate phase (hopeite-like) and a nanoscale phase that likely consists of a ZnO core with an amorphous Zn<sub>3</sub>(PO<sub>4</sub>)<sub>2</sub> shell. The P species composition was also pH dependent, with 82% occurring as hopeite-like P at pH 6 while only 15% occurred as hopeite-like P at pH 8. These results highlight how reactions of ZnO MNMs with phosphate are influenced by environmental variables, including pH, and may ultimately result in structurally and morphologically heterogeneous end products.