A New Method for Detecting Environmental Contaminants in Sewage

One of the many ways that harmful chemicals enter our environment is through wastewater runoff, or effluent.  Effluent from sewage treatment plants can include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

As the number of environmental contaminants has increased, the technologies used to detect them have similarly advanced.  Traditional methods have involved gas chromatography in combination with mass spectrometry.  In the early 1990s, two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC x GC) techniques were developed.  But while GC x GC improves our ability to separate complex environmental samples, it is still not able to perform direct analysis of many compounds without additional time-consuming steps.

High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is increasingly being used for environmental chemical analysis.  Recently, scientists in the Netherlands published the first study using two-dimensional liquid chromatography (LC x LC) to analyze complex environmental samples in wastewater effluent.

The scientists used an LC x LC system consisting of an Agilent Auto Sampler, an Agilent HPLC binary pump for the first dimension, an Agilent UHPLC binary pump for the second dimension, and an Agilent thermostatted column compartment for the 2D interface.  Modulation was controlled using Agilent Chemstation software, while detection was done using an Agilent VWD detector.

LC x LC separation of the effluent sample was found to be highly effective.  Overall, 20 compounds were tentatively identified.  The researchers believe that after further tests, LC x LC could enable the comprehensive characterization of toxicity and identification of environmental contaminants.

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