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Supercritical Fluid Chromatography Coupled to High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry Reveals Persistent Mobile Organic Compounds with Unknown Toxicity in Wastewater Effluents

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posted on 2023-06-12, 19:13 authored by Selina Tisler, Pinelopi Savvidou, Mathias B. Jørgensen, Mafalda Castro, Jan H. Christensen
Broad screening approaches for monitoring wastewater are normally based on reversed-phase liquid chromatography (LC) coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). This method is not sufficient for the very polar micropollutants, neglected in the past due to a lack of suitable analytical methods. In this study, we used supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) to detect very polar and yet-undetected micropollutants in wastewater effluents. We tentatively identified 85 compounds, whereas 18 have only rarely been detected and 11 have not previously been detected in wastewater effluents such as 17α-hydroxypregnenolone, a likely transformation product (TP) of steroids, and 1H-indole-3-carboxamide, a likely TP from new synthetic cannabinoids. Suspect screening of 25 effluent wastewater samples from 8 wastewater treatment plants revealed several distinct potential pollution sources such as a pharmaceutical company and a golf court. The analysis of the same samples with LC–HRMS showed clearly how SFC increases the ionization efficiency for low-molecular-weight micropollutants (m/z < 300 Da) by a factor 2 to 87 times, which significantly improved the mass spectra for identifying very polar compounds. In order to assess which micropollutants might be of environmental concern, literature and toxicological databases were screened. There was a lack of available hazard and bio-activity data for regulatory-relevant in vitro and in vivo assays for >50% of the micropollutants. Especially, 70% of the data were lacking for the whole organism (in vivo) tests.

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