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Using mass spectrometry to analyze our medicated environment

Foto: Arek Socha, Pixabay

On Friday April 23, it was time for the virtual event Mass Spectrometry in Environmental Science, which was arranged by the Division of Mass Spectrometry at the Swedish Chemical Society.

One of the presentations – A medicated environment – was held by Jerker Fick from the Institution of Chemistry at Umeå University. He spoke about how him and his colleagues are using mass spectrometry to measure the presence and concentration of different medical drugs and their metabolites in drinking water and in other environmental samples.

– There are environmental protocols for approximately 10 percent of all pharmaceuticals on the market, he said, and added that pharmaceuticals in the environment are a global problem.

– They have even been detected in Antarctica, close to a research base and a cruise ship.

That means that pharmaceuticals and their metabolites have been found on all seven continents, and Jerker Fick continued by explaining why this is a problem.

– The problem with pharmaceuticals is not toxicity, it is that they are designed to have a biological effect.

He added that there is no animal that expresses all of the drug targets that humans have, but they have some of them. This means that pharmaceuticals in e.g. drinking water can have a significant effect on the environment.

He mentioned several different research projects that he has been involved in. In one, him and his colleagues analyzed water from different parts of the Baltic Sea. Pharmaceuticals could be found in all of them. One of the drugs that they focused on was carbomazepine, an antiepileptic substance which is not removed in nature.

Another project that Jerker Fick was involved in took place in Australia, where 247 aquatic insects and spiders (from 33 different species) were collected from six different streams around Melbourne.

– The rivers ran through heavily populated urban systems and it is not surprising that we found pharmaceuticals in the insects and spiders living there, but we could detect really high levels! he said.

During the event, there were several interesting presentations about different new techniques as well as research conducted using mass spectrometry. To learn more about the speakers, also read:

Bananplantager och solskydd – de letar miljögifter med masspektrometri – Svenska Kemisamfundet

Han utvecklar nya tekniker för masspektrometri – Svenska Kemisamfundet