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Detecting Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products in Water


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Environmental regulatory bodies stringently monitor the composition of potable and environmental water to ensure its safety. Pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) are products used for personal health or cosmetic reasons. This category includes a broad group of chemical substances, which are released in wastewater from industrial sources and households. The presence of PPCPs in environmental and potable water is a widespread concern due to the potentially harmful effects for both humans and the environment. Here Joe Anacleto, VP for Bruker Daltonics Applied Markets Business Group, addresses some commonly asked questions regarding the challenges surrounding the detection of PPCPs in clean water, and explores how liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) can offer a more convenient method for highly sensitive PPCP detection than those conventionally used.

What are PPCPs and why do they present risks to the environment?

PPCPs are pharmaceutical and personal care products that are used for personal health or cosmetic reasons. This category includes a broad group of chemical substances such as human and veterinary medicines, cosmetics, and house-hold cleaning products. Wastewater from households and industrial sources contains multiple PPCPs of various combinations, concentrations and relative toxicologies. The presence of PPCPs in environmental and potable water is a widespread concern due to the potentially harmful effects for both humans and the environment.  Evidence suggests PPCPs are linked to some ecological damage such as the delayed development in fish.

How are the concentrations of PPCPs regulated and detected?

To ensure the safety of water, PPCP concentrations are stringently monitored at trace concentration by environmental regulatory bodies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Detection of PPCPs is traditionally a complicated and laborious process due to the range of substances potentially present in clean water.

Conventional methods of PPCP detection have followed the defined US EPA 1694 ‘template’ for analysis which requires the pre-concentration of large volume water samples and tedious solid phase extraction (SPE) clean up, followed by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry analysis in order to achieve the low ng/L (ppt) level detection necessary to comply with regulations.

In a recent study Bruker developed a new method using the Bruker Advance ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) system with high sensitivity EVOQ LC-MS technology. PPCPs were detected at 1-2 ppt with a linear response up to 200 or 500 ppt. Excellent system robustness was obtained throughout the extended method development and sample analysis.

How can LC-MS be used to meet US EPA regulations?

A case study by Bruker demonstrates how using UHPLC with an integrated on-line extraction (OLE) option coupled to the EVOQ LC-MS can be used for the detection of PPCPs to US EPA guidelines. The incorporation of OLE enables convenient method-driven on-line sample cleanup or sample pre-concentration.

Several water samples were analyzed for a range of PPCP species including tap water samples along with bottled and creek water. Samples were analyzed targeting a wide range of PPCP species representing compounds displaying varied concentrations and properties. All of the PPCPs studied were detected at 2 ppt or better with an injection of 0.4 mL water samples, with a linear response range up to 200 or 500 ppt. Replicate injections with 5 ppt level spiked in tap water demonstrated excellent robustness.

How are advances in triple quadrupole liquid chromatography meeting the needs of environmental monitoring more broadly?

Environmental monitoring requires high levels of sensitivity, speed and robustness, to meet increasing regulatory demands in the high-throughput application of environmental analysis laboratories. Bruker has worked continually to meet the needs of the environmental monitoring sector, with innovations in the EVOQ LC-MS system. The use of Advance UHPLC reduces chromatographic run time, while PACER software offers exception based review, which eliminates the need for non-experts to review chromatograms, to accelerate sample-to-report times and improve efficiency. The EVOQ features the unique Active Exhaust in the ion source, which eliminates gas recirculation within the instrument to reduce chemical noise over time and significantly reduce cleaning and downtime. The EVOQ range from Bruker also includes Vacuum Insulated Probe HESI (VIP-HESI), which prevents the degradation of thermally fragile molecules for improved sensitivity.

See Bruker’s application note ‘Ultra-sensitive Detection of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products in Water with an Integrated On-Line Extraction (OLE)-UHPLC-MS/MS System’ for more information on this method.

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