Non-target screening analysis of river water as compound-related base for monitoring measures

  • Jan SchwarzbauerEmail author
  • Mathias Ricking
Research Article


Background, aim, and scope

Building up a comprehensive accurate monitoring program requires the knowledge on the contamination in principal, complemented by detailed information on individual contaminants. The selection of pollutants to be considered in monitoring actions is based dominantly on the information available about their environmental relevance (e.g., persistence, bioaccumulation potential, toxicological and ecotoxicological properties) and their occurrence within the affected environmental system. Therefore, this study focused on the identification of organic contaminants in selected German and European rivers to demonstrate the usefulness of a screening approach as complementary base for the compound selection process within monitoring activities.

Materials and methods

Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry-based screening analyses were performed on five and six samples from German and European rivers, respectively. Identification of individual contaminants was based on the investigation of mass spectral and gas chromatographic properties compared with databases and reference materials.


This study summarized the results of non-target screening analyses applied to river water samples and focused dominantly on, so far, unnoticed organic contaminants. Numerous compounds have been identified belonging to the groups of pharmaceuticals, technical additives, pesticides, personal care products, and oxygen-, nitrogen-, and sulfur-containing compounds of obviously anthropogenic origin. They are discussed in terms of their structural properties, their possible application or usage, and the environmental information available so far.


Generally, two different groups of compounds have been differentiated that might contribute to potential monitoring programs. Firstly, more specific contaminants characterizing the individual riverine systems have been depicted (e.g., 4-chloro-2-(trifluoromethyl)aniline, di-iso-propylurea). The consideration of these substances in monitoring analyses to be applied to the corresponding catchment areas is recommended in order to monitor the real state of pollution. Secondly, contaminants have been introduced that appeared with higher multiplicity throughout the different river systems (e.g., TMDD, TXIB). Since these compounds tend to obviously have an elevated environmental stability accompanied by a widespread distribution, it is recommended to consider them in international high-scale monitoring programs.


For monitoring purposes, a fundamental knowledge on the diversity of pollutants is an important precondition, which can be supported by screening analyses. Obviously, numerous organic contaminants have been neglected so far in environmental studies on river water, comprising also investigation on potential harmful effects and, therefore, their implementation in monitoring activities has been hindered.

Recommendations and perspectives

Therefore, based on the results of this study, screening analyses should be established as principle tools to improve and complement the substance spectra for monitoring purposes. Secondly, scientific efforts should be strengthened to expand our knowledge on actually appearing organic contaminants in riverine systems.


Screening analysis River water Organic pollutants GC/MS 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and CoalRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesFree University of BerlinBerlinGermany

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