SETAC EU Conference Review: New, Toxic Emerging Contaminants and their Risk on Environment and Human Health
In 2019, 81.8 million tons of environmentally hazardous chemicals and 208 million tons of chemicals hazardous to human health were produced.1 To mitigate the effects of these contaminants and prevent health risks, governments continuously run risk assessments to keep regulations up to date.
At the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s annual meeting for Europe in 2021, held virtually, the scientific community met to discuss the latest research and results on environmental contamination and its effect on animal and human health.
Emerging contaminants were the focus of many presentations; for example, perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been recently added to the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty concerning environmental pollutants, because their presence and effects on the environment are still unclear.
Regulations play a key role in mitigating the contamination of emerging pollutants, but analytical technologies enabling reliable results while complying with existing regulations are also needed to support governments in providing robust risk assessments.
What are PFAS?
Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are emerging toxic, organic pollutants that persist—with the potential for bioaccumulation and ubiquity in the environment. For these reasons, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been included to in the Stockholm Convention as persistent organic pollutants.
Since they have been used to produce fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water, PFAS can be found in many products as clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire.
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union commission regulate the production, use, and presence of PFAS; the latter specifies regulations and limits for drinking water, groundwater, and surface waters.
Analytical challenges of PFAS determinations
The most widely used analytical technique for PFAS monitoring is liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) due to its high sensitivity, selectivity, and robustness.
Especially for the analysis of water, solid phase extraction (SPE) with LC-MS/MS has been a popular approach to PFAS analysis. Though effective, this approach can be time consuming, costly, and might cause potential analyte loss and contamination resulting from SPE sample preparation.
A direct injection approach can help labs in achieving the highest sample throughput, save time, and reduce cost while minimizing the sample prep work and contamination.
One presentation covered the presented results from a direct injection approach to an extensive PFAS analysis, utilizing an LC-MS/MS coupled to an ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) system for the analysis of trace amounts of PFAS in various types of water samples.
The key to face the challenges of environmental pollution is to adapt risk assessment to address emerging concerns and identify them in a timely manner to prevent further spread and risks to environmental and human health.
With PFAS being considered a growing concern, labs should establish tested workflows into their processes to provide enhanced assessments for these emerging contaminants.
To learn more about the benefits of using an LC-MS/MS coupled UHPLC system for water analysis, read our application note: