Advancing Environmental Analysis: Beyond the First 50 Years of the EPA

Special Issues, Special Issues-11-01-20, Volume 38, Issue 11
Pages: 8

An introduction to this special issue by our guest editor.

December 2 marks the 50-year anniversary of the initial organization of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The birth of the EPA was preceded by years of environmental concern, catalyzed by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, an attack on the indiscriminate use of pesticides and brought together 14,000 of scientists, lawyers, and managers across the country to fight for environmental protection (2). In the EPA’s mission, Congress writes law, then the EPA writes regulations and enforces them. The laws that affect the environmental laboratory community the most are the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA’s enforcement of these acts has resulted in the establishment of pollutants that must be monitored, maximum contaminant levels (MCL) of concentrations these pollutants cannot exceed, a permitting process allowing emissions or discharges that do not exceed MCLs, and a system of fines and punishments for when they do. This entire system of compliance is based on the measurement of identity and concentration of these contaminants in the environment by analytical methods developed by, or approved by, the EPA.

The 15 years between 1970 and 1985 saw a proliferation of methods published by consensus organizations, such as Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater and ASTM International, as well as by the EPA. New technologies, such as gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS), purge and trap, and inductively coupled plasma‒optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) were introduced. Unfortunately, since 1985 there has been minimal progress new methods, few removals of regulated parameters that are no longer in use or detected, and few additions of new contaminants of concern.

LCGC North America and its partner publications routinely present to its readers new technology and new methods that could be used to improve environmental monitoring. Often, these pages present for the first time new analytes that should be measured and the techniques that could be used to measure them. This issue is no different, as we are presenting a consolidation of some new ideas to present a sampling of efforts moving technology and environmental monitoring forward.

First, Agustin Pierri at Weck Laboratories Inc., along with his collaborators at Agilent Technologies, offer a new look at analysis of semi volatile organic compounds replacing traditional liquid-liquid extraction with solid phase extraction (SPE). To overcome high pollutant loads, they extract small sample volumes making the final measurement with gas chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS), allowing them to meet method detection limits after extracting less sample with significant gains in throughput.

Hunter Adams and his staff at the City of Wichita Falls Environmental Laboratory follow with a closer look at taste and odor compounds reconfiguring a GC-MS to also use electron capture detection (ECD) with solid phase microextraction (SPME) and headspace, allowing the measurement of all taste and odor compounds in Standard Methods 2170 using a single configuration. This is an excellent example of combining existing technology to measure existing analytes in a new and improved way.

Next, Shun-Hsin Liang and his team at Restek Corporation presents analysis of short chain alternative and legacy per and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in water samples using a hybridization of hydrophilic interaction chromatography (HILIC) and ion exchange using direct injection tandem liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC–MS/MS). This newer technique enables analysis of PFAS compounds that are not analyzed using the more traditional C18 columns or solid phase extractions (SPE).

Larry Zintek and his team of EPA Region 5 chemists in Chicago, Illinois provide another direct injection LC-MS/MS method for the analysis of highly polar pesticides and herbicides in water samples. Existing methods involve complex extractions and derivatizations that significantly lower laboratory throughput. By using a modified American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) method, they were able to lower detection limits and increase throughput and measurement capacity for a large surface water monitoring project.

Finally, Richard Burrows of Eurofins Environment Testing America and Jerry Parr of Catalyst Information Resources discuss calibration. While not an article presenting a new technology or new method, the authors and I believe that the future will bring an end to use of the correlation coefficient (r) and the coefficient of determination (r2) as a means of judging the suitability of an instrument calibration.

I believe this special issue provides some insights into the future of environmental testing. When faced with analytical challenges there is no limit to the imagination of the laboratory and instrument manufacturing community to solve problems and find solutions. Unfortunately, in many instances, we are limited by regulations forcing us to use older, antiquated methods and technology. This is not the fault of the good people at EPA, but in my opinion, a failure of the process. The 14,000 scientists, lawyers, and managers that came together as a result of Silent Spring were not bound by 50 years of regulatory process. They worked together rapidly, in a Manhattan Project style collaboration, to solve existing environmental problems to the best of their ability with the knowledge they had at the time. As we start a new age, and travel beyond the first 50 years of EPA, let’s work together and envisage a new future where the contaminants that need to be measured are measured using the instrumentation and methods most suited for the task. This LCGC special issue highlights not a new approach, but the original approach; manufacturers, laboratories, and regulatory agencies working together solving problems with science.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find these articles as enjoyable as I have.

(1) https://archive.epa.gov/epa/aboutepa/ epa-order-11102-initial-organization- epa.html, last accessed October 25, 2020

(2) J. Lewis, EPA Journal (1985) https:// archive.epa.gov/epa/aboutepa/birth-epa. html, last accessed October 25, 2020