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Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

Fluorescence Spectroscopy and Multivariate Analysis as a Rapid, Cost-Effective Method To Monitor Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCP) in Three Maine Rivers

EPA Grant Number: FP917137
Title: Fluorescence Spectroscopy and Multivariate Analysis as a Rapid, Cost-Effective Method To Monitor Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCP) in Three Maine Rivers
Investigators: Killarney, James P
Institution: University of Maine
EPA Project Officer: Cobbs-Green, Gladys M.
Project Period: September 1, 2010 through August 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010)
Research Category: Fellowship - Pesticides and Toxic Substances , Academic Fellowships



Pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) are contaminants of emerging concern in U.S. water supplies. In order to accurately assess the human and environmental hazards of PPCP mixtures, the identity and quantity of the individual pharmaceutical chemicals must first be determined. Because this is a diverse group of compounds that number in the thousands, it is cost-prohibitive to test for them using traditional mass spec-based methods. In this project, we propose to develop a rapid, cost-effective method using excitation emission matrix fluorescence spectroscopy combined with parallel factor analysis to screen for PPCP mixtures in natural water samples.


Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are contaminants of emerging concern in U.S. water supplies. The health effects of chronic exposure to mixtures of these compounds are unknown. Testing for the large number of these compounds is a cost-prohibitive endeavor. The goal of this project is to develop a rapid, cost-effective screening method using fluorescence spectroscopy combined with parallel factor analysis to identify and quantify PPCP mixture contamination in water samples.


In the first stage of this project, standard concentration models will be generated from excitation emission spectra using parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC) by spiking natural water samples with varying concentrations of individual PPCP compounds. These models will be tested for predictive value by putting known concentration standards into the model. Thus far, predictive models have been created for 17α-ethinylestradiol. Samples will be collected from three Maine rivers and analyzed using these models. Gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy will be performed on the same samples and compared to the results of the new method. The second stage of the project will assess the strength of our models with the changing complexity of natural water samples. Different sites along the three rivers will be sampled monthly to asses both temporal and spatial changes in the water. Additionally, multi-factor PARAFAC models will be created by spiking chemical mixtures of varying concentrations into natural water samples to assess the strength of individual compound models against changing concentrations of other compounds in the sample.

Expected Results:

We propose to develop a new analytical method for identifying pharmaceutical compounds using fluorescence spectroscopy. This novel fluorescence spectroscopy technique will be used to identify individual compounds at low concentrations in natural waters. This approach is expected to produce a relatively low cost analytical method for screening a large number of organic compounds to help water suppliers and regulatory agencies make accurate water quality assessments. Current methodology for identifying pharmaceutical compounds in natural water supplies is costly and can take several weeks to generate full results. In comparison, the proposed method is rapid and less expensive in terms of people and equipment. The potential time and cost benefit of the proposed method will allow for more frequent sampling and allow for the assessment of a wider range of potential contaminants to provide a more accurate analysis of water quality. Additionally, this method can analyze complex multi-component mixtures without resorting to prior separation procedures. If the methods and analysis show success for the studied compounds, they can be applied to other classes of chemicals found in water. Compounds that show distinctive fluorescence properties (e.g., VOCs and pesticides) are potential candidates for this analysis.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

In order to assess the health risks of potentially thousands of trace compounds in our natural water systems, thorough and comprehensive testing must be performed. Unfortunately, this is a cost-prohibitive endeavor. Rapid, inexpensive screening techniques for select compounds will allow for more sampling and data generation. More data will aid in the risk assessment of these compounds with regards to human and ecosystem health.

Supplemental Keywords:

PPCP, PARAFAC, fluorescence spectroscopy, water quality,

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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