Identification of Unknown Microcontaminants in Dutch River Water by Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy.

J.A. van Leerdam, J.J.M. Vervoort, G. Stroomberg, P. de Voogt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


In the past decade during automated surface water monitoring in the river Meuse at border station Eijsden in The Netherlands, a set of unknown compounds were repeatedly detected by online liquid chromatography-diode-array detection in a relatively high signal intensity. Because of the unknown nature of the compounds, the consequently unknown fate of this mixture in water treatment processes, the location being close to the water inlet of a drinking water supply company and their possible adverse public health effects, it was deemed necessary to elucidate the identity of the compounds. No data are available for the occurrence of these unknowns at downstream locations. After concentration and fractionation of a sample by preparative Liquid Chromatography, identification experiments were performed using Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (LC-HR-MS) combined with High Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (HR-NMR). Accurate mass determination of the unknown parent compound and its fragments obtained in MS/MS provided relevant information on the elemental composition of the unknown compounds. With the use of NMR techniques and the information about the elemental composition, the identity of the compounds in the different sample fractions was determined. Beside some regularly detected compounds in surface water, like caffeine and bisphenol-S, five dihydroxydiphenylmethane isomers were identified. The major unknown compound was identified as 4,4'-dihydroxy-3,5,3',5'-tetra(hydroxymethyl)diphenylmethane. This compound was confirmed by analysis of the pure reference compound. This is one of the first studies that employs the combination of high resolution MS with NMR for identification of truly unknown compounds in surface waters at the µg/L level. Five of the seven identified compounds are unexpected and not contained in the CAS database, while they can be presumed to be products generated during the production of resins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12791-12799
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • accurate-mass
  • degradation-products
  • phenolic resins
  • waste-water
  • transformation products
  • polar pesticides
  • surface-water
  • catalyst type
  • contaminants
  • formaldehyde

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