BAM facilitates water quality monitoring

The European Commission extends the list of substances to be monitored for water conservation by 15. In addition to industrial chemicals, biocides and pesticides, pharmaceuticals are listed for the first time. BAM supports this development by providing sensitive, reliable and cost effective analysis methods and reference materials for these substances.

Exactly how the "good status" of surface waters is to be achieved in Europe over the next few years is specified in the EU Water Framework Directive (Directive 2008/105/EC). The Directive now contains a list of 48 "priority" substances to be monitored, which pose a significant risk to the aquatic environment. The discharge of these substances into waters is to be phased out by 2021.

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a flame retardant, is new on the list, along with bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP), a plasticizer for plastics of all kinds, and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a widely used perfluorinated surfactant in chrome plating or as a water-repellent coating for textiles, paper- or cardboard packaging.

HBCD is chemically very complex. A total of 16 different forms (stereoisomers) of this material are possible, of which only six are significant for environmental analysis. Even a tiny difference in the shape of the HBCD molecule can change its chemical behavior in the environment and in organisms. In their dissertations, graduate students at BAM examined the properties of all 16 stereoisomers in detail, and explored trace analysis methods for their identification in environmental samples or samples from organisms such as fish or bird eggs. Using these methods, a group of researchers from BAM and UBA determined an increase in HBCD exposure in gull eggs from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea over the past few decades.

Two of the pharmaceutical agents now on the list are 17αethinylestradiol (EE2) and 17βestradiol (E2). EE2 is contained in most birth control pills and has been monitored in environmental analysis for years because of its high potency. E2 is a natural hormone used in hormone replacement therapy. BAM has an antibody-based rapid detection method (ELISA), by which a few nanograms (billionths of a gram) of EE2 or E2 can be detected per litre of surface water. Compared to conventional methods, this immunoanalytical method allows for samples to be examined systematically, at high levels of throughput, but at a fraction of the cost. Since both hormones are also excreted by humans, they must be removed from wastewater. In order to analyze EE2 and E2 in sewage plants, BAM also developed a very reliable, mass-spectrometric technique.

As a departmental research institute of the Federal Government, the BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing conducts water quality research with the goal of furthering safety in technology and chemistry by setting standards and supporting quality assurance measures.

Source: Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)

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