Natural ferrihydrite as an agent for reducing turbidity caused by suspended clays

Received for publication October 22, 2008. Biologically impaired waters are often caused by the turbidity associated with elevated suspended sediment concentrations. Turbidity can be reduced by the addition of positively charged compounds that coagulate negatively charged particles in suspension, causing them to flocculate. This research was conducted to determine the effectiveness of ferrihydrite, a poorly crystalline Fe oxide, as a flocculating agent for suspended clays similar to those found in high-turbidity waters of the Mississippi delta. Clay concentrations of 100 mg L–1 from a Dubbs silt loam (fine silty, mixed, active, thermic Typic Hapludalfs), a Forestdale silty clay loam (fine, smectitic, thermic Typic Hapludalfs), and a Sharkey clay (very fine, smectitic, thermic Chromic Epiaquerts) were suspended in 0.0005 mol L–1 CaCl2 solutions at pH 5, 6, 7, or 8. Natural ferrihydrite with a zero point of charge at pH 5.8 was acquired from a drinking water treatment facility and mixed with the suspension at concentrations of 0, 10, 25, and 50 mg L–1. After settling periods of 24 and 48 h, percent transmittance was measured at a wavelength of 420 nm using a 3-mL sample collected at a depth of 2 cm. The greatest reductions in turbidity after 24-h equilibration were recorded for the pH 5 suspensions of the Dubbs (31%) and Forestdale (37%) clays at a ferrihydrite concentration of 10 mg L–1 and for the Sharkey clay at a ferrihydrite concentration of 25 mg L–1 (relative to the 0 ferrihydrite treatment). Water clarity for all samples further increased after 48 h. These results indicate that the effectiveness of ferrihydrite, as a means of reducing turbidity associated with suspended clays, is greatest at pH values below its zero point of charge.

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