Exposure science, in its broadest sense, studies the interactions between stressors (chemical, biological, and physical agents) and receptors (e.g. humans and other living organisms, and non-living items like buildings), together with the associated pathways and processes potentially leading to negative effects on human health and the environment. The aquatic environment may contain thousands of compounds, many of them still unknown, that can pose a risk to ecosystems and human health. Due to the unquestionable importance of the aquatic environment, one of the main challenges in the field of exposure science is the comprehensive characterization and evaluation of complex environmental mixtures beyond the classical/priority contaminants to new emerging contaminants. The role of advanced analytical chemistry to identify and quantify potential chemical risks, that might cause adverse effects to the aquatic environment, is essential. In this paper, we present the strategies and tools that analytical chemistry has nowadays, focused on chromatography hyphenated to (high-resolution) mass spectrometry because of its relevance in this field. Key issues, such as the application of effect direct analysis to reduce the complexity of the sample, the investigation of the huge number of transformation/degradation products that may be present in the aquatic environment, the analysis of urban wastewater as a source of valuable information on our lifestyle and substances we consumed and/or are exposed to, or the monitoring of drinking water, are discussed in this article. The trends and perspectives for the next few years are also highlighted, when it is expected that new developments and tools will allow a better knowledge of chemical composition in the aquatic environment. This will help regulatory authorities to protect water bodies and to advance towards improved regulations that enable practical and efficient abatements for environmental and public health protection.
- Emerging contaminants
- Environmental analytical chemistry
- Exposure science
- High resolution mass spectrometry