Early detection of organic micropollutants in aquatic ecosystems

Last changed: 12 August 2020
Sunset over a lake. Photo.

The increasing worldwide contamination of aquatic ecosystems with thousands of man-made organic micropollutants is one of the key environmental problems facing humanity today. The aim of this project is to improve detection methods of organic micropollutants. The new analyzing strategy will be used to produce a list of prioritized pollutants for which control measures are urgently needed.

Every year approximately 300 million tons of man-made organic organic chemicals are used in production of industrial and consumer products. Large amounts of OMPs continuously reach natural waters, primarily through industrial activities and municipal and industrial wastewater effluents. In nature, OMPs can alter ecosystem functioning, reduce biodiversity and constrain ecosystem services.

Detection methods used in environmental assessment measure only a small fraction of the released OMPs and the actual number of OMPs in natural waters remains unknown. Likely the ones detected constitute only the tip of the iceberg, and therefore OMPs effect on ecosystems and human health is unknown.

The project focuses on Lake Mälaren, which is the largest drinking water reservoir and the third largest lake in Sweden. Water, wastewater effluents, sediment and biota (e.g. mussels) will be screened for OMPs. The sampling will be conducted in a close collaboration with the Lake Mälaren's Water Conservation Association (Mälarens vattenvårdsförbund).

After sampling and sample enrichment, an already-established workflow will be used, including high resolution mass spectrometry, data processing based on e.g. blank subtraction and retention time, and prioritization based on databases and suspect screening. A good prioritization strategy is a key part since the output from the mass spectrometry can, for a single sample, include thousands of signals, all of which could possible represent an OMP. This project will greatly benefit from Swedish Chemicals Agency's (KemI) product register, a unique database for the use of chemicals in Sweden.

Finally, the identified OMPs will be characterized by their persistence, bioaccumulation, toxicity (PBT) potential and their environmental fate in the ecosystem (i.e. water, sediment, biota). Ultimately, this project will produce a list of prioritized pollutants for which control measures are urgently needed in the future. The knowledge gained from this project will improve the protection of the aquatic ecosystem and reduce their exposure to toxic OMPs.



The project is funded by the Oscar and Lili Lamm Memorial Foundation.

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