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Jun 15, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 12)

Determining What's in Your Laboratory Water

"Emerging Contaminants" from the Tap Pose Subtle Threat to Experimental Data

  • Remaining Vigilant

    Many companies now monitor reports of emerging contaminants. They assess whether these contaminants are effectively removed by water-purification systems or perhaps require additional purification steps. A recent example is EDCs, which are natural and synthetic substances that alter the function of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse effects in an organism or its progeny.

    Substances suspected of being EDCs include organohalogens (chloroform, dioxins), chemicals used in pesticides (DDT), and plastics (bisphenol A, phthalates). Research groups are actively designing sensitive analytical methods to identify, quantify, and study the effects of EDCs in humans and animals. For these laboratories, high-purity water is a requirement.

    In addition to EDCs entering laboratory water from the tap, the materials used in the water-purification system itself may contaminate water due to the leaching of EDCs from plastic materials in filtration membranes, resin housings, and piping.  To ensure that EDCs are completely removed from laboratory water, a point-of-use cartridge can be used.

    It is critical that awareness of both emerging and well-known contaminants remain high for both developers of laboratory water-purification systems and researchers. New contaminants will certainly be identified and may require novel purification techniques, while concentrations of known contaminants that currently do not pose a concern for most laboratories may rise to levels that have a widespread impact on analyses and experimentation.

    Posing a further challenge is the increased sensitivity of analytical methods.  As methods become more sensitive, the likelihood that existing contaminants may become increasingly detectable and interfere with, or confound, results also increases. These methods—HPLC, LC-MS, PCR, and microarrays, just to name a few—all share the requirement for one critical reagent—water. Used as blanks, for dissolution and dilution of samples, dilution of standards, preparation of mobile phases and for media and buffer preparation, water is central to a laboratory’s productivity and success.

    Purified water is one of the most common reagents in the laboratory—used throughout experimental protocols in virtually every type of application. The emergence of new contaminants, and our ability to detect existing contaminants in water at extremely low levels, require us to ask an important question: Do you know what’s in your laboratory water?

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