Science Inventory

Emerging Contaminants in the Environment


JONES-LEPP, T. L. Emerging Contaminants in the Environment . Chapter 13, A. T. Lebedev (ed.), Comprehensive Environmental Mass Spectrometry. ILM Publications, SAINT ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE, Uk, 12:287-307, (2012).


What does ―emerging contaminant‖ mean? For example, in 3000 B.C. lead was co-extracted with silver from silver mines in Anatolia and subsequently discarded. To those who lived in the vicinity of the mine, and whose water and food sources were contaminated with leftover lead, the lead may well have been considered an emerging contaminant. Skipping forward five thousand years, at the beginning of the industrial age the United States (US) Tariff Commission published (1918-1919) that the combined production total of synthetic organic chemicals was nearly 800 million pounds (USTC 1919). The finished products were diverse: dyes, color lakes, photographic chemicals, medicinals, flavors, perfume materials, synthetic phenolic resins, synthetic tanning materials, and explosives (USTC 1919). In contrast, in 2007 the US production volume of organic synthetic chemicals was nearly 27 trillion lbs (USEPA 2008). Should all 27 trillion lbs be considered ECs? The answer lies within our modern concept of an ―emerging contaminant‖. The idea of what is an EC really didn’t take hold until it was recognized that not every chemical that is manufactured is a ―good‖ chemical for the environment. In 1962 the publishing of Rachel Carson’s seminal book ―Silent Spring‖ (Carson 1962) brought forth to the attention of the American public, and the global community, the hidden dangers of what was thought to be a ―good‖ chemical, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). DDT was great for public health; it killed malaria-bearing mosquitoes, squelched infestations of bedbugs, and had other beneficial properties for human well-being. However, now it is widely known and accepted that DDT was responsible for the near extinction of the bald eagle, and other birds of prey, and DDT was officially banned from use in the US on June 14, 1972 ( Although DDT has not been used for nearly 40 years in the US, the use of mass spectrometry has determined that there are still residual amounts of DDT and its breakdown/transformation products, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane ( DDD), to be found in the environment (McMahon, Dennehy et al. 2006; Lubick 2007).


This chapter explores the use of mass spectrometry and its application to emerging contaminants (ECs) in the environment; such classes of compounds as organometallics, pharmaceuticals/drugs, nanomaterials, and dispersants (surfactants). Table 1 shows the variety of ECs that are available, however this table should not be thought of as an exhaustive listing, but as a helpful reference for this chapter.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 04/12/2012
Record Last Revised: 05/09/2012
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 232465