The research article 'Microplastic removal in conventional drinking water treatment processes: Performance, mechanism, and potential risk' has been published in the journal Water Research (Volume 202, 1 September 2021, 117417).
The effectiveness of traditional drinking water treatment plants for the removal of Microplastics (MPs) in the size range of tens of micrometers is currently uncertain. This study investigated the behavior and removal efficiency of four different sized polystyrene MPs (10−90 μm in diameter) in a simulated cascade of coagulation/sedimentation, sand filtration, and UV-based oxidation over technically relevant time frames. In the coagulation and sand filtration steps, the larger the MP size, the better it was removed. The coagulant type and water characteristics (i.e., pH and the presence of natural organic matter) influenced the coagulation efficiency for MPs. X-ray microcomputed tomography technique and two-site kinetic modeling were used to identify the mechanisms involved in sand filtration. The MPs > 20 μm could be completely retained in sand by straining, while the attachment to the sand surface was likely responsible for the retention of MPs < 20 μm. However, approximately 16% of 10 μm MPs injected passed through the sand, which were further fragmented by UV oxidation. UV/H2O2 treatment promoted the MP fragmentation and chemical leaching more significantly than UV treatment, resulting in a higher toxicity for UV/H2O2-treated water. Our findings pave the way for deeper understanding of how MPs behave and transform in a sequential drinking water treatment process.