Identification of novel micropollutants in wastewater by a combination of suspect and nontarget screening
To detect site-specific, suspected and formerly unknown contaminants in a wastewater treatment plant effluent, we established a screening procedure based on liquid chromatographyehigh resolution mass spectrometry (LCeHRMS) with stepwise identification schemes. Based on automated substructure searches a list of 2160 suspected site-specific and documented water contaminants was reduced to those amenable to LCeHRMS. After searching chromatograms for exact masses of suspects, presumably false positive detections were stepwise excluded by retention time prediction, the evaluation of isotope patterns, ionization behavior, and HRMS/MS spectra. In nontarget analysis, peaks for identification were selected based on distinctive isotope patterns and intensity. The stepwise identification of nontarget compounds was automated by a plausibility check of molecular formulas using the Seven Golden Rules, an exclusion of compounds with presumably low commercial importance and an automated HRMS/MS evaluation. Six suspected and five nontarget chemicals were identified, of which two have not been previously reported as environmental pollutants.