The European drinking water directive is changing – after more than 20 years! The current regulations were produced in 1998, which doesn’t seem that long ago, but we were all just starting to get cell phones then. Remember that the limited word count on texts and emojis didn’t even exist? 1998 also saw the Euro currency agreed upon and implemented the following year. It really WAS a long time ago.
Which is one of the reasons the regulations were reviewed; they were outdated as knowledge of chemicals from water processing grew as well as the uncovering of emerging contaminants. There also was mounting pressure from the civilian action group Right2Water. And if that wasn’t enough, there is the ongoing plastic crisis, and the environmental needs to reduce bottled water consumption. One way to do this: have all of Europe — especially member states — to have excellent and consistent quality drinking water.
The new revision of the drinking water directive in 2020 has the inclusion of some prevalent and newsworthy chemical compounds.
Some of the major inclusions are the regulation of PFAS compounds, disinfection byproducts such as haloacetic acids, chlorate, chlorite and pesticides. Here we show why having an Ion chromatograph will help you meet the changes in a way that will also simplify your workflows.
1. Disinfection byproducts with minimal sample prep
In a previous blog post, I talked about why we disinfect drinking water. What we do know, is that this is a necessary process to protect public health from bacterial diseases, and what we also know is that the process leaves behind disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Worryingly, some DBPs were not covered by the previous drinking water directive and are now advised by the World Health Organization. The main ones being haloacetic acids. But also included are chlorate and chlorite.
Why IC? This is what IC is made for — small, polar compounds. Historically, haloacetic acids were analyzed using GC-ECD, but this requires lengthy sample preparation and derivatization, which can be over 20 steps long and take up to four hours. This technology has been adopted by in the US EPA method 557 for haloacetic acids.
Ion chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry for the analysis of haloacetic acids is direct injection. No need for extensive sample preparation, which is not only time consuming but also a major source of error. Chlorate and chlorite also can be analyzed by ion chromatography.
2. Quick and simple PFAS screening
There is no escaping PFAS compounds. With articles published weekly about this subject and a well-publicized and has even captured the attention of the famous water activist Erin Brockovich, PFAS is here to stay – quite literally forever. PFAS analytical methods are typically HPLC with mass spectrometry. Samples require some preparation and there is a dedicated automated SPE instrument for PFAS samples to avoid high backgrounds and interferences from parts containing Teflon. However, as part of the PFAS workflow, there is another option and, of course, it involves IC!
Samples for PFAS can be screened by combustion IC. This is a simpler way to run analyses, to check for any presence of fluorine. Samples that show presence of fluorine can then be further analyzed on the LC-MS for qualitative results. This means fewer samples and data to analyze on the more-involved LC-MS system.
Pesticides in our food, drink and environment is not a new issue, but the inclusion of them into drinking water regulations is a triumph for health monitoring. There are many pesticide analytical methods using a variety of GC and HPLC with MS. One of the most globally used pesticides is glyphosate. This is an ionic compound, along with its metabolite AMPA, which makes it perfect for ion chromatography.
Using IC for polar pesticides is again a direct injection method; no need for derivatization, and coupling the IC to MS means high resolution and sensitivity of methods. Because it is designed for ionic, polar compounds, the technique is selective and robust, so you don’t see the reproducibility issues you often see with HILIC. What’s more, the ionic pesticide explorer solution comes as a validated workflow with everything you need to get you started.
As I write this blog, a major development has happened in Europe, and IC-MS/MS is now included in the European Reference Laboratory single residue method (EURL-SRM) for polar pesticides in food, using the Thermo Scientific™ Dionex™ IonPac™ AS19 column. This means IC-MS/MS is but is now a proven technique for polar pesticides. It makes sense to adopt this methodology for polar pesticide analysis in water to comply with the new EU Drinking water directive.
I know I said there were three good reasons, but there is a fourth!
Chances are you are running IC already; it is a staple technique in an analytical water laboratory. Standardizing on approach and technique means expertise is built up more readily. It also means multiple methods can be applied to one instrument — especially if using with eluent generation — which makes switching methods easier and reduces equilibration time.
EU member states have until 12 January 2026 ”to take the measures necessary to ensure that water intended for human consumption complies with the parametric values set out in Part B of Annex I for Chlorate, Chlorite, Haloacetic Acids, PFAS Total, Sum of PFAS, as well as Bisphenol A, Microcystin-LR, and Uranium.”
2026 sounds like a long way away, but then again, 1998 seemed like five years ago, so the time really is now to start investigating and implementing.