A Universal Testing Paradigm for PPCPs in Water Systems


Establishing best practices for standard method development and optimized workflows will help scientists and researchers expedite their work in understanding the impacts of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) on the environment. Online SPE coupled to UHPLC-MS/MS offers an accurate, efficient way to detect PPCPs while also providing high-throughput and reduced solvent usage.

Environmental Contaminants

Residuals of everyday pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) have been labeled as an emerging environmental concern since the mid-1990s. PPCPs range from sunscreens and soaps to over-the-counter and prescription medications. These types of products can enter the environment through various sources, including municipal wastewater, polluted ground water, surface water, and even drinking water.

Although these products have often been detected in low levels in the environment, they can persist as biologically active compounds for years. These products were designed to interact and target specific pathways in humans and animals and could cause harmful effects even at low levels.

Many national environmental protection bodies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Australian EPA, and the environmental regulatory committee of the European Commission have labeled PPCPs as a contaminant of emerging concern given the potential negative effects on animal ecosystems (and humans). As one example, many drugs contain molecules that are endocrine disrupters, which target hormonal pathways. And although designed for humans, animals have such similar pathways that those drugs could unintentionally affect wildlife reproductive cycles. Those effects could cascade through the ecosystem, causing irreparable damage—and that is just one example of potential harm.

PPCPs aren’t just one type of compound—there are thousands of different chemicals that could do damage. Those differences mean there isn’t one analysis method scientists can use to detect any potentially harmful levels of PPCPs.

One of the first steps in combating the documented detrimental effects on the environment is to quantify PPCP levels in multiple water sources by continuously testing for a wide array of compounds.

The Testing Paradigm

Traditional analytical methods for the determination of PPCPs rely on time-consuming and elaborate sample preparation techniques that require large sample volumes before analysis. Using streamlined sample preparation methods that shorten the method and reduce sample size can boost productivity—a vital

variable to method planning and development for analyzing PPCPs. Online solid phase extraction (SPE) coupled with UHPLC-MS/MS offers these time- and resource-saving benefits, making it ideal to incorporate in procedure development for PPCP analysis.

One best practice for PPCP testing is sample enrichment, prior to sample introduction, since PPCPs can show up in extremely low concentrations. Enrichment, in tandem with UHPLC-MS/MS, will allow testing labs to detect PPCPs even at low parts per trillion concentrations.

PerkinElmer’s QSight® SP50 Online SPE System, coupled with a QSight 220 triple quadrupole mass spectrometer and controlled by the Simplicity 3Q software platform, is an ideal solution that checks all the requirements of PPCP water analysis

Drinking and River Water Analysis

A demonstration of this method is the use of online SPE coupled to UHPLC-MS/MS for the preconcentration, separation, detection, and quantitation of PPCPs in drinking water at low part per trillion levels. This online approach allows for significant and efficient analyte concentration, removing the need for elaborate and time-consuming sample preparation procedures—improving productivity, and reducing solvent usage and laboratory waste. Due to enrichment, compared to other methods, large sample volumes are no longer needed to reach low part per trillion levels for PPCPs in drinking water.

1-ppb with 3-mL sample enrichment via Online SPE


Overlay 10 replicate injections 50-ppt in tap water with peak area %RSDs


Linearity Plots for 4 representative PPCPs from 1 to 250 ppt


Sensitivity Improvements with Online SPE compared to Direct Injection


A Beginning

Online SPE coupled to UHPLC-MS/MS has the attributes to become a universal method of water analysis to consistently, accurately, and efficiently detect PPCPs—it’s high-throughput, reduces solvent use, and requires a small sample size and minimal handling.

Research, analysis, and ongoing monitoring are critical first steps to understanding the breadth of the potential concerns around PPCPs and their effects on the environment and human health. Establishing best practices for standard method development and optimized workflows will help scientists and researchers expedite their work in understanding the impacts of PPCPs in the environment and in building technologies to address those impacts.