IS IT SAFE TO DRINK OUR WATER?

Juan Francisco Ayala Cabrera, Clara Pérez Ràfols, Alejandro Fernández Pumarega

Water plays a crucial role in the environment, being essential for life development and one of the most valuable resources for humanity. In fact, it is recommended to drink 1.5-2 litters of water daily and, for instance, we use it to cook most of our food. Moreover, the water quality does not only affect human life but also other living forms. However, water purity has been affected by the growing human activities (agriculture, industry or urban residues among others). For these reasons, the concern around its possible contamination has been increasing over the years.

Analytical chemists have been developing new methodologies that allow us the detection of toxic substances in water as well as the determination of their levels. Different techniques can be applied depending on the context. Thus, in order to detect sudden contaminations caused, for example, by an industrial waste disposal we need portable instrumentation. In this sense, sensors can be useful tools since they are usually low cost and they allow us to continuously monitor water quality. On the other hand, there are some persistent contaminants that can be really toxic at very low concentrations. In these cases, more accurate techniques have to be employed. For example, chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry has allowed the simultaneous determination of these kinds of contaminants.

Although usually we have some clues about what substances may be contaminating our water, sometimes we can find unexpected pollutants that could potentially be very toxic. In these cases, mass spectrometry can be used to identify them.

All these types of analysis are focused to detect already existing contaminants. However, it is also important to have methodologies that allow us to prevent these water contaminations. In fact, some efforts have been focused to the development of different methodologies to predict the potential behaviour of new substances in the environment before releasing them to the market.

Therefore, the aim of this talk is to give an overview about the importance of water control and the different tools that are currently used in this field.