Could multidimensional chromatography become a key tool in environmental analysis during times of crisis? 

Regina M. B. O. Duarte1 

1 CESAM – Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Department of Chemistry, University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal 


Environmental Health – defined as the field of public health that addresses physical, chemical, biological, social, and psychosocial factors in the environment1 – is not a new concept, but it has become especially important in the last two years due to COVID-19 pandemic. Human exposure to organic and inorganic pollutants (in water, soils, and air) is linked to an impaired immune system, which makes those individuals more susceptible to face serious diseases. For example, the association between air pollution and COVID-19 spread, morbidity, and mortality is nowadays well recognized.2 The intensification of domestic activities due to several lockdowns, has also negatively affected indoor air quality.3 The increasing use of chlorine disinfectants in both indoor and outdoor spaces could lead to the formation of new hazardous compounds not only in the air, but also in aquatic environments, posing new challenges to air and water quality, drinking water safety, and food security.4,5 Under times of crisis, such as the ongoing pandemic, it becomes therefore crucial a continuous risk assessment of the environmental hazardous compounds steaming from intensified prevention practices amid new or emerging diseases. 

Monitoring chemical pollutants in environmental matrices, using either a targeted or untargeted approach, has become a fundamental tool for assessing the environmental quality. The growing challenge of identifying thousands of compounds of anthropogenic origin in complex environmental samples, requires the use of analytical methods capable of reducing assignment uncertainty. In this context, multidimensional chromatographic methods, namely comprehensive two-dimensional liquid and gas chromatography (LC×LC and GC×GC, respectively), are attractive approaches due to their astounding separation power and peak capacity compared to the classical one-dimensional chromatography.6,7 When coupled to high-resolution detectors (e.g., mass spectrometry), LC×LC and GC×GC can provide reliable fingerprints of both known and unknown environmental pollutants. This presentation highlights the motivations for applying LC×LC and GC×GC in environmental analysis and overviews the commonly used implementations and guiding principles for method development, with a particular focus on LC×LC, in an attempt to inspire researchers to adopt multidimensional chromatography for their environmental problems. 

Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to FCT/MCTES for the financial support to CESAM (UIDP/50017/2020+UIDB/50017/2020) through national funds. This work was supported by an Exploratory Research Project (IF/00798/2015/CP1302/CT0015, Investigator FCT Contract IF/00798/2015), as well as AMBIEnCE project (PTDC/CTA-AMB/28582/2017) funded by FEDER, through COMPETE2020-Programa Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização (POCI), and by national funds (OE) through FCT/MCTES. Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) is also acknowledged for endorsing the AMBIEnCE project. 


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