Micropollutants are chemicals that include pharmaceuticals and
personal care products (PPCPs), endocrine disrupting chemicals
(EDCs, such as hormones) and disinfection by-products
Micropollutants are of concern in the environment because even at
very low levels they may affect organisms that live within the
water ecosystem or those that consume the water (including
humans). Micropollutants typically occur at very low
concentrations and require special analytical methods to detect
them. The challenge is to measure these low level pollutants using
a novel method – passive sampling.
In many cases, micropollutants of concern in the environment
occur at concentrations at or below normal instrumental detection
limits. This limits the usefulness of a typical one litre grab
sample of water for analysis. One way to overcome this
difficulty is to use ‘passive samplers’ - units which are placed
within the waterway and absorb chemicals of interest over a period
of time – typically weeks to months. This increases the ability to
measure contaminant concentrations, by pre-concentrating the
micropollutants. The resulting concentrated sample is returned to
the laboratory for analysis.
The accumulated micropollutant contained in the passive sampler
reflects a time-weighted average for the duration of
deployment. Time-weighted data incorporates the variability in
pollutant concentration into a single figure, and provides an
indication of pollutant load.
Passive samplers were deployed at four sites within waterways of
the A.C.T. One litre grab samples were also collected from the same
location at the conclusion of the passive sampler deployment and
used for calibration and method comparison.
The deployed passive samplers were returned to the laboratory
for analysis using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS
Out of 45 tested micropollutants (in the categories of
pharmaceuticals/personal care products and steroids), 13 were found
to be present across the four sites. These micropollutants
included antibiotics, caffeine, hormones, an epilepsy treatment
drug, valium, beta blockers, a migraine treatment drug and cancer
None of the chemicals identified using the passive sampler
techniques were detected within the one litre grab samples. As such
passive samplers are shown to be a useful tool in determining the
presence of low concentration micropollutants in natural
This research project was conducted
with funding from ACTEW Water’s Applied Research and Development
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