• The fabrication of monodisperse, (super)paramagnetic nanoparticles is summarized. • Monolayer and bilayer surface coating structures are described. • Mono/bilayer coated nanoparticles showed high sorption capacities for U, As, and Cr. Over the past few decades, engineered, (super)paramagnetic nanoparticles have drawn extensive research attention for a broad range of applications based on their tunable size and shape, surface chemistries, and magnetic properties. This review summaries our recent work on the synthesis, surface modification, and environmental application of (super)paramagnetic nanoparticles. By utilizing high-temperature thermo-decomposition methods, first, we have broadly demonstrated the synthesis of highly monodispersed, (super)paramagnetic nanoparticles, via the pyrolysis of metal carboxylate salts in an organic phase. Highly uniform magnetic nanoparticles with various size, composition, and shape can be precisely tuned by controlled reaction parameters, such as the initial precursors, heating rate, final reaction temperature, reaction time, and the additives. These materials can be further rendered water stable via functionalization with surface mono/bi-layer coating structure using a series of tunable ionic/non-ionic surfactants. Finally, we have demonstrated platform potential of these materials for heavy metal ions sensing, sorption, and separation from the aqueous phase.