U(VI)-phosphate interactions are important in governing the subsurface mobility of U(VI) in both natural and contaminated environments. We studied U(VI) adsorption on goethite-coated sand (to mimic natural Fe-coated subsurface materials) as a function of pH in systems closed to the atmosphere, in both the presence and the absence of phosphate. Our results indicate that phosphate strongly affects U(VI) adsorption. The effect of phosphate on U(VI) adsorption was dependent on solution pH. At low pH, the adsorption of U(VI) increased in the presence of phosphate, and higher phosphate concentration caused a larger extent of increase in U(VI) adsorption. Phosphate was strongly bound by the goethite surface in the low pH range, and the increased adsorption of U(VI) at low pH was attributed to the formation of ternary surface complexes involving both U(VI) and phosphate. In the high pH range, the adsorption of U(VI) decreased in the presence of phosphate at low total Fe concentration, and higher phosphate concentration caused a larger extent of decrease in U(VI) adsorption. This decrease in U(VI) adsorption was attributed to the formation of soluble uranium-phosphate complexes. A surface complexation model (SCM) was proposed to describe the effect of phosphate on U(VI) adsorption to goethite. This proposed model was based on previous models that predict U(VI) adsorption to iron oxides in the absence of phosphate and previous models developed to predict phosphate adsorption on goethite. A postulated ternary surface complex of the form of (>FePO4UO2) was included in our model to account for the interactions between U(VI) and phosphate. The model we established can successfully predict U(VI) adsorption in the presence of phosphate under a range of conditions (i.e., pH, total phosphate concentration, and total Fe concentration).
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