Nitrate is linked to chronic human illness and to a variety of environmental problems, and continues to be a contaminant of concern in soils and natural waters. Improved methods for nitrate abatement, thus, are still needed. The purpose of this study was to assess the potential for redox-modified, iron-bearing clay minerals to act as nitrate decontamination agents in natural environments. The model clay mineral tested was ferruginous smectite (sample SWa-1) exchanged with either sodium (Na+) or polydiallyldimethylammonium chloride (poly-DADMAC). Structural iron (Fe) in SWa-1 was in either the oxidized or reduced state. Little nitrate uptake was observed in the Na+-SWa-1, which was attributed to coulombic repulsion between the basal surfaces of the smectite and the nitrate anion. The addition of the DADMAC to the SWa-1 reversed the electrostatic charge manifested at the smectite surface from negative to positive, as measured by the zeta (ζ) potential. The positively charged poly-DADMAC-SWa-1 yielded high nitrate uptake due to coulombic attraction in both the oxidized and reduced states of the Fe in the SWa-1. The presence of reduced structural Fe(II) in the positively charged poly-DADMAC-SWa-1 enabled a chemical reduction reaction with the nitrate to produce nitrite. The amounts of nitrite found in solution, however, failed to account for all of the Fe(II) oxidized, so other N reduction products may also have formed or perhaps nitrite was also present in the adsorbed phase. The effects of other complexities, such as polymer configuration at the surface, also need further investigation. The results do clearly establish abiotic nitrate reduction to nitrite and possibly other reduction products. The combination of bacterial activity in soils and sediments, which is known to reduce structural Fe in smectites, and the abundance of organic cations in soil organic matter creates an environment where reversed-charge smectite could exist in nature. This represents a potentially effective system for mitigating harmful effects of nitrate in soils, sediments, groundwater, and surface water.
- Polycation organoclays
- Polycation-exchanged smectite