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New Technique IDs Micro-pollutants in NY Waterways

Damian Helbling, left, and Amy Pochodylo, M.S. ’14, examine samples of New York waterways in a search for previously undetected micropollutants.

Cornell engineers hope that clean water runs deep. They have developed a new technique to test for a wide range of micropollutants in lakes, rivers and other potable water sources that vastly outperforms conventional methods.

“Water quality monitoring is conventionally done by narrowly investigating one or a few contaminants at a time. We aimed to develop an analytical method that would be as broad as possible,” said Damian Helbling, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. Helbling and Amy Pochodylo, M.S. ’14, published their research as the cover story in the journal Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology.

“We demonstrate that our approach can more than double the amount of information that would otherwise be obtained from more conventional methods,” Helbling said, “This has important implications for risk characterization and exposure assessment.”

The new technique – using high-resolution mass spectrometry – assessed 18 water samples collected from New York state waterways. A total of 112 so-called micropollutants were found in at least one of the samples – chemicals including pharmaceuticals, pesticides and personal care products. Helbling said that eight of the chemicals were found in every sample and dozens more were found in most samp