Our main area of interest is the study of contaminants in water and their environmental impact on, for example, fish and other organisms in rivers. This includes both substances that have been around for many years, such as the pesticides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, and those that are new to the market.
We identify and quantify contaminants using mass spectrometry, do a risk assessment of their likely environmental impact, and communicate the findings to all interested parties so that they have a complete understanding of the situation. Typically, we analyze water from Spanish rivers, and we are also involved in European collaborations. In these cases, samples are shipped to us from our colleagues in other countries. In addition, we carry out some exposure experiments in the lab, investigating the ecotoxicity of, for example, nanomaterials and microplastics, to establish the potential environmental risk they present.
Mass spectrometer sensitivity has improved tremendously over the years. Today’s instruments are sensitive enough to detect contaminants at levels as low as nanograms per liter, which means that we only need to analyze 5 or 10 milliliters of a sample compared to as much as a liter a couple of decades ago. We have a number of SCIEX instruments in our labs, including SCIEX Triple Quad™ systems, QTRAP® systems, and our most recent acquisition, the X500R QTOF System. The advantage of the X500R QTOF System is that, as a high-resolution instrument, it allows us to perform accurate mass measurements.
We have had the X500R QTOF System for about 18 months now, and we were able to adapt our existing methodologies for use with this system relatively quickly as we were already familiar with SCIEX software. At the moment, the system is mainly used for qualitative and quantitative analysis of pharmaceuticals in wastewater destined for reuse in agriculture, which is a hot topic in Europe, and it is performing well. We are very happy with it, and we will be exploring its capabilities further in other studies. The X500R QTOF System is a competitive instrument in the marketplace and, in my view, this new generation of the system makes life in the lab better.