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Water-soluble polymers: emerging contaminants detected, separated and quantified by a novel Gpc/Maldi-Tof method

Tarring, Eve C., Durance, Isabelle ORCID:, Harbottle, Michael J. ORCID:, Lucas, Robert, Read, Daniel S. and Ward, Benjamin D. ORCID: 2024. Water-soluble polymers: emerging contaminants detected, separated and quantified by a novel Gpc/Maldi-Tof method. Environmental Pollution 340 (1) , 122888. 10.1016/j.envpol.2023.122888

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Water-soluble polymers (WSPs) are additives used as thickeners, stabilisers and flocculants in industry and in household products, including personal care products. Given their widespread use, it is likely WSPs enter the environment, particularly through wastewaters. This is of concern as there is little ecotoxicological research on their fate and behaviour once in the environment, which means their risk to aquatic life is not understood. The lack of suitable analytical techniques to detect, characterise and quantify WSPs hinders research on the potential impact of these polymers. A novel method has been developed that identifies polymers within a sample and separates them using gel-permeation chromatography (GPC). This is coupled with matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS), to quantify the polymer fractions using molecular weight information. This process has been carried out on a range of aqueous media. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) ingredients were successfully separated from non-polymeric material in a commercial shaving gel personal care product (PCP), before being quantified at 1.62 wt%. This method was applied to a spiked wastewater influent sample to demonstrate the extraction and separation of PEG from organic constituents such as dissolved organic matter (DOM). This highlighted the additional challenges of analysing WSPs in the environment, as factors such as sorption and biodegradation affected the total recovery of PEG, with an extraction efficiency of 53%. Overall, this method was applied for the extraction of PEG from a PCP with accurate quantification, before a proof-of-concept extraction from wastewater demonstrated the difficulties associated with WSP analysis in environmental samples. This method provides opportunities to use tandem GPC/MALDI-TOF MS to quantify WSPs in a broad array of environmental samples. Additional studies could include its application to wastewater or freshwater monitoring.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Biosciences
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:, Start Date: 2023-11-06
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0269-7491
Funders: NERC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 9 November 2023
Date of Acceptance: 5 November 2023
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2024 15:20

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