Activities such as farming, commercial fishing, energy production, manufacturing, and transportation have increased the presence of contaminants in the environment. Regulatory bodies including the US EPA and the European Commission provide guidance to restrict, reduce, and eliminate the spread of contaminants and protect against human exposure. Despite continual efforts to regulate against environmental contamination, constant assessment is needed to identify and monitor novel, unknown, or contaminants of emerging concern for consideration in future regulation.
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Emerging contaminants include synthetic or naturally occurring compounds or microorganisms that are suspected to have, or have demonstrated, adverse effects on human or environmental health. Emerging contaminants can include previously known, newly discovered, or unknown compounds. An example of the sources of emerging contaminants that can end up in the sewage of the municipalities is shown in the diagram below.
The need to identify these compounds or initiate advanced assessment of their presence in the environment can be due to one or more of the following:
Environmental monitoring programs are designed to identify potential contaminant candidates through various sources of information and provide processes for regulation inclusion. Examples of emerging contaminant compounds and compound classes of recent concern include the compounds listed in this table.
|Examples of emerging contaminants|
|Class of compound||Example compounds|
|Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)||Antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and cosmetic products|
|Flame retardants and their impurities||Polybromonated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs)|
|Pesticides and biocides||Perfluororoctane sulfonates (PFOS) and perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA)|
|Steroids and endocrine disrupters||Biogenic and synthetic hormones|
|Nanoparticles||Gold, silver and other nanoparticles used in clothing and cosmetic industry|
|Disinfection byproducts||Nitrosamines and disinfection byproducts containing iodine|
The proliferation of unknown compounds that can cause long term detrimental effects to human and environmental health has increased the need for early detection for confident identification of these contaminants. Advanced monitoring strategies should include methodologies and techniques that identify and quantitate known contaminants of concern as well as technology capable of revealing the unknown exogenous compounds present. The capabilities of the Orbitrap technology provide unique solutions for this growing requirement. Specifically, the benefits of HRAM for unknown identification candidate reduction and subsequent confirmation are unmatched.
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Academic researchers, regulatory bodies, and environmental interest groups work diligently to determine the impact of known contaminants that have been identified as "emerging". Through data collection and evaluation from various sources a determination for future regulation or monitoring requirements is made. A few specific compounds/compound classes of recent focus include: pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs), pesticides, steroids & endocrine disrupters, microcystins, disinfection byproducts (DBP), and nanoparticles.
US EPA validated methods for emerging contaminants
US EPA draft methods for emerging contaminants analysis
Because most emerging contaminants are unknown and present at trace amounts in the environment, modern advanced technologies must be used for characterization, identification, and quantitation. Prior to regulatory determinations, development and validation of analytical methods for monitoring is required. Method development analysts can help choose a technique based on gas phase or liquid phase separation introduction; however, basic chromatography capabilities are limited and generally fail to meet requirements needed for emerging contaminant analysis.
Triple quadrupole mass spectrometers provide selective monitoring of known (targeted) compounds through Select Reaction Monitoring (SRM), demonstrating high sensitivity in complex environmental samples. However, their capabilities are limited when attempting to identify unknown (untargeted) emerging contaminants. For unknown identification, high-resolution accurate-mass (HRAM) mass spectrometry in Orbitrap technology can be used to clearly elucidate the structure of unknown compounds, greatly minimizing identification candidates. Overall, the ability to structurally discriminate unknowns through HRAM and the use of accurate mass as a highly selective monitoring mechanism provides a single solution for both known and unknown emerging contaminant analysis. The added benefit of the availability of Orbitrap technology in both liquid and gas phase analysis delivers an all encompassing solution for emerging contaminant analysis.
Traditionally, nanoparticles have been analyzed either using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) or dynamic light scattering (DLS) technology. However, these methods do not provide the speed needed to support high-throughput analysis of nanoparticles in environmental samples. Single nanoparticle ICP-MS has gained momentum in the recent years for characterization analysis due to its high-throughput capability and the ability to characterize a wide range of nanoparticles sizes. Using the right software, nanoparticles can be characterized by ICP-MS with great speed, accuracy and precision.