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SOLUTIONS: Simplified sampling of large water volumes for combined chemical and biological testing

June 9, 2017

LVSPE during the Joint Danube Survey 2013. Image: André Künzelmann (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

A guest post by Tobias Schulze, Martin Krauss, Jörg Ahlheim, David López Herráez, and Werner Brack of the EU SOLUTIONS project.


It is becoming more and more obvious: the analysis of individual chemicals is not sufficient to monitor water quality in rivers and lakes which increasingly contain mixtures of thousands of chemical compounds and transformations, both known and unknown.

The current water quality monitoring strategy based on the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is not meaningful in identifying the real causes of chemical stress in aquatic ecosystems. It disregards the multitude of compounds and the impact of their mixtures, and thus cannot reflect the real world situation.

In this context, ‘mixture toxicity‘ is an important issue. Many compounds are not toxic at environmental concentrations, but a mixture of compounds with a similar mode of toxicity may cause severe impact on aquatic organisms and the surrounding ecosystem. At the ecosystem level this can impact species interactions, and cause local species loss, community shifts and direct or indirect alterations of core ecosystem functions.

The composition of these contaminant cocktails and their impact is inherently unknown in space and time. Therefore, using toxic effects in cells and organisms to detect hazardous contamination is increasingly accepted as a more holistic monitoring approach.

However, much larger water volumes need to be collected and extracted for bioanalysis than for chemical analysis only. Transporting samples of 50-1,000 litres of water to the lab for sample preparation is not an option. The efforts and expenses for cooling the sample and for the laboratory processing would be immense.


Preparation of the LVSPE before sampling. Image: Werner Brack (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

As a result, scientists and engineers from the SOLUTIONS project led by Tobias Schulze have developed a novel sampling device to perform the extraction of large volumes of water on-site from the shore of a waterway or at monitoring stations. The ‘LVSPE’ approach is flexible, robust and provides reproducible water extracts which contain as much as possible of the original cocktail of contaminants found in the water.

This device has been successfully deployed for biological effect-based and chemical analyses in the Danube and Rhine case studies carried out by SOLUTIONS. It has helped to unravel new insights into mutagenicity in surface waters and also to detect the potential impact of untreated wastewater on Danube water quality.

Both the Rhine and the Danube studies are excellent examples of the applicability of effect-based analyses in combination with chemical analyses as a means of investigating overall contamination and effect patterns.

The availability of large water volume extracts provided by the ‘LVSPE’ device is hence an important building block for the development of future effect-based and chemical monitoring approaches considering mixture toxicity. As a result, the device has significant potential in supporting holistic risk assessment and river basin management.


Detail view on the large sampling cartridge for up to 1000 liters. Image: André Künzelmann (UFZ, Leipzig, Germany)

If you would like to read more on the subject:

Schulze, T. et al. (2017): Assessment of a novel device for onsite integrative large-volume solid phase extraction of water samples to enable a comprehensive chemical and effect-based analysis. Science of the Total Environment, 350–358 (link)

Brack, W. et al. (2013): EDA-EMERGE: an FP7 initial training network to equip the next generation of young scientists with the skills to address the complexity of environmental contamination with emerging pollutants. Environmental Sciences Europe 25, 1-7 (link)

König, M. et al. (2017): Impact of untreated wastewater on a major European river evaluated with a combination of in vitro bioassays and chemical analysis. Environmental Pollution 220, 1220-1230 (link)

Muz, M. et al. (2017): Mutagenicity in surface waters: synergistic effects of carboline alkaloids and aromatic amines. Environmental Science & Technology 51, 1830–1839 (link)

Neale, P.A. et al. (2015): Linking in vitro effects and detected organic micropollutants in surface water using mixture toxicity modeling. Environmental Science & Technology 49, 14614-14624 (link)


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