Granular activated carbon (GAC) is commonly used as adsorbent in water treatment plants given its high capacity for retaining organic pollutants in aqueous phase. The current knowledge on GAC behaviour is essentially empirical, and no quantitative description of the chemical relationships between GAC surface groups and pollutants has been proposed. In this paper, we describe a quantitative model for the adsorption of atrazine onto GAC surface. The model is based on results of potentiometric titrations and three types of adsorption experiments which have been carried out in order to determine the nature and distribution of the functional groups on the GAC surface, and evaluate the adsorption characteristics of GAC towards atrazine. Potentiometric titrations have indicated the existence of at least two different families of chemical groups on the GAC surface, including phenolic- and benzoic-type surface groups. Adsorption experiments with atrazine have been satisfactorily modelled with the geochemical code PhreeqC, assuming that atrazine is sorbed onto the GAC surface in equilibrium (log Ks = 5.1 ± 0.5). Independent thermodynamic calculations suggest a possible adsorption of atrazine on a benzoic derivative. The present work opens a new approach for improving the adsorption capabilities of GAC towards organic pollutants by modifying its chemical properties.

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