New trends in the analytical determination of emerging contaminants and their transformation products in environmental waters
Since the so-called emerging contaminants were established as a new group of pollutants of environmental concern, a great effort has been devoted to the knowledge of their distribution, fate and effects in the environment. After more than 20 years of work, a significant improvement in knowledge about these contaminants has been achieved, but there is still a large gap of information on the growing number of new potential contaminants that are appearing and especially of their unpredictable transformation products. Although the environmental problem arising from emerging contaminants must be addressed from an interdisciplinary point of view, it is obvious that analytical chemistry plays an important role as the first step of the study, as it allows establishing the presence of chemicals in the environment, estimate their concentration levels, identify sources and determine their degradation pathways. These tasks involve serious difficulties requiring different analytical solutions adjusted to purpose. Thus, the complexity of the matrices requires highly selective analytical methods; the large number and variety of compounds potentially present in the samples demands the application of wide scope methods; the low concentrations at which these contaminants are present in the samples require a high detection sensitivity, and high demands on the confirmation and high structural information are needed for the characterisation of unknowns. New developments on analytical instrumentation have been applied to solve these difficulties. Furthermore and not less important has been the development of new specific software packages intended for data acquisition and, in particular, for post-run analysis. Thus, the use of sophisticated software tools has allowed successful screening analysis, determining several hundreds of analytes, and assisted in the structural elucidation of unknown compounds in a timely manner.