Graphene oxide (GO) is likely to encounter heavy metals due to its widespread use and inevitable release into the subsurface environment, where the ubiquitous presence of iron oxides (e.g., hematite) would affect their interaction and transport. The present study aimed to investigate the cotransport of GO (20 mg L−1
) and copper (0.05 mM CuCl2
) in the presence of varying degrees of geochemical heterogeneity represented by iron oxide-coated sand fractions (ω = 0‒0.45) in water-saturated columns under environmentally relevant physicochemical conditions (1 mM KCl at pH 5.0‒9.0). The Langmuir-fitted maximum adsorption capacity of Cu2+
by GO reached 137.6 mg g−1
, and the presence of 0.05 mM Cu2+
decreased the colloidal stability and subsequent transport of GO in porous media. The iron oxide coating was found to significantly inhibit the transport of GO and Cu-loaded GO in sand-packed columns, which can be explained by the favorable deposition of the negatively charged GO onto patches of the positively charged iron oxide coatings at pH 5.0. Increasing the solution pH from 5.0 to 9.0 promoted the mobility of GO, with the exception of pH 7.5, in which the lowest breakthrough of GO was observed. This is possibly due to the fact that the surface charge of iron oxide approaches zero at pH 7.5, suggesting that new “favorable” sites are available for GO retention. This study deciphered the complicated interactions among engineered nanomaterials, heavy metals, and geochemical heterogeneity under environmentally relevant physicochemical conditions. Our results highlight the significant role of geochemical heterogeneity, such as iron oxide patches, in determining the fate and transport of GO and GO-heavy metal association in the subsurface environment.
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