Anthropogenic organic contaminants present in wastewater and sewage sludge may persist through wastewater treatment and raise concerns when reclaimed water becomes a viable resource for agricultural irrigation or when wastewater-derived biosolids are land applied as an agricultural soil amendment. Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) reach wastewater streams following human use and include but are not limited to pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, corrosion inhibitors, plasticizers, and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs). PFAAs are a class of CECs under particular scrutiny with regards to human and environmental impacts due to their persistence.
All of these CECs have the potential to bioaccumulate in crops, and robust analytical methods are needed to the potential contamination of food crops. To this end, controlled greenhouse experiments designed to examine the potential bioaccumulation of selected CECs into representative edible crops from reclaimed water as well as from biosolids amended soil can be performed using LC-MS/MS workflows. Analysis of various plant tissues for targeted CECs allows for the calculation of bioaccumulation factor (BAF) values for each chemical in each edible plant tissue. Additionally, non-edible portions of the plants can be analyzed to improve our understanding of how CECs will be transported and accumulated within plants. Ultimately, the study of CECs and their accumulation in crops can help us better understand the potential exposure of humans to contaminants in fresh produce.