Worst-case ranking of organic chemicals detected in groundwaters and surface waters in England

Spurgeon, David; Wilkinson, Helen; Civil, Wayne; Hutt, Lorraine; Armenise, Elena; Kieboom, Natalie; Sims, Kerry; Besien, Tim. 2022 Worst-case ranking of organic chemicals detected in groundwaters and surface waters in England. Science of the Total Environment, 835, 155101. 13, pp.

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The Environment Agency has been using Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GC–MS) and Accurate-mass Quadrupole Time-of-Flight (Q-TOF) / Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) target screen analysis to semi-quantitatively measure organic substances in groundwater and surface water since 2009 for GC–MS and 2014 for LC-MS. Here we use this data to generate a worst-case “risk” ranking of the detected substances. Three sets of hazard values relating to effects on aquatic organisms, namely Water Framework Directive EQSs, NORMAN Network PNECs (hereafter NORMAN PNEC) and chronic Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD) HC50s from Posthuma et al., (2019) were used for the assessment. These hazard values were compared to the highest measured concentration for each chemical to generate a worst-case hazard quotient (HQ). Calculated HQs for each metric were ranked, averaged and multiplied by rank for detection frequency to generate an overall ordering based on HQ and occurrence. This worst-case approach was then used to generate ranking lists for GC–MS and LC-MS detected substances in groundwater and surface water. Pesticides in the top 30 overall ranked list included more legacy pesticides in groundwater and more current use actives in surface water. Specific uses were linked to some high rankings (e.g. rotenone for invasive species control). A number of industrial and plastics associated chemicals were ranked highly in the groundwater dataset, while more personal care products and pharmaceuticals were highly ranked in surface waters. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) compounds were commonly highly ranked in both environmental compartments. The approach confirmed high rankings for some substance (e.g. selected pesticides) from previous prioritization exercises, but also identified novel substance for consideration (e.g. some PFAS compounds and pharmaceuticals). Overall our approach provided a simple approach using readily accessible data to identify substances for further and more detailed assessment.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pollution (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0048-9697
Additional Keywords: hazard ranking, hazard quotient, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PFAS
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 21 Jul 2022 11:43 +0 (UTC)

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