Editorial Feature

Elemental Analysis in Water Quality Management: Ensuring Safe and Clean Drinking Water

Elemental analysis is an established industrial technique used to determine the concentration of various constituents and identify the presence of contaminants in different molecules or materials.

water quality management

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The presence of contaminants, heavy metals, and other pollutants is hazardous to human health. Elemental analysis is a crucial technique employed to ensure that water meets the necessary cleanliness and safety standards for human consumption.

What Are the Different Methods for Elemental Analysis of Water?

The source and nature of water contribute to a variable concentration of its elements. For example, seawater is very salty, containing high concentrations of chloride ions along with the presence of divalent ions such as calcium and sodium.

The amount of total dissolved solids in seawater is between 44,000 to 60,000 mg/l, whereas drinking water has a much lower concentration of these ions.

This information can only be extracted through elemental analysis. An article published in the Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry reports that Inductively coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) is a powerful and versatile analytical technique for elemental analysis of water samples.

The advantageous features of ICP-OES make it suitable for analyzing a wide range of chemicals. Its primary feature is the short detection time compared to other techniques.

ICP-OES is characterized by lower detection limits than its counterparts, a much broader dynamic range of measurements, and higher tolerance to diverse matrices.

Additionally, it exhibits minimal susceptibility to chemical interferences, and the results are highly accurate. It incorporates a sophisticated instrumental configuration that enables the simultaneous and precise detection of 2 to 70 elements.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) is another well-known technique for elemental analysis of water samples. Analysis of water samples using XRF yields results in a shorter duration and is useful for detecting the presence of heavy metals and trace amounts of other contaminants.

A new version of XRF, termed total reflection XRF (TXRF), proves to be a successful technique for the multi-elemental analysis of water. It has comparable sensitivity to ICP-OES and incurs no additional instrumental or associated costs. There is no need for any calibration or excessive maintenance, making it a cheaper and more sustainable option.

Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR) is applied to detect microplastics. This process enables the detection of even the smallest type of polymer plastics polluting the water. FT-IR provides accurate information related to the size, number, and type of particles present in the water.

Organic toxic wastes, such as oil, and grease, in recent times, have been polluting the water bodies. The ASTM D7575 Standard Test is utilized for the industrial detection of these pollutants. It involves passing water samples through a solid-phase extractor and analyzing oil and other organic pollutants using infrared spectroscopy.

Pesticides and other toxic pollutants are harmful to all types of organisms, and their presence in water is detected using mass spectrometry. This is the most powerful, commercially used technique for identifying targeted pesticides and other emerging contaminants.

Case Study: Water Elemental Analysis in Zagreb (Croatia)

In major cities worldwide, numerous monumental and decorative water fountains are present. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these fountains serve practical purposes related to leisure, tourism, and more. Both residents and tourists use these fountains for drinking and handwashing. It is therefore necessary to perform elemental analysis to ensure that the water quality meets the required standards.

An article in Environmental Science and Pollution Research presents a case study involving elemental analysis of water samples collected from Zagreb City’s most popular fountain. The analysis utilized an inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometer.

In all the samples, the aluminum concentration ranged from 7.98 to 56.7 μg L−1. This value fell well within the limits set by international standards and Croatian legislation.

A contaminant that can significantly affect water quality is arsenic. However, the elemental analysis results in this study showed that arsenic was present in a safe concentration. Boron, barium, and heavy metal cadmium concentrations were also below the allowable limits.

The calcium concentration ranged from 21 to 143 mgL-1, while sodium varied from 5.7 mgL-1 to 375 mgL-1.

The elemental analysis revealed that the water from public fountains in Zagreb was safe for public consumption. The quality of the stone from which the fountain was constructed did not affect the water quality.

Major Player for Elemental Analysis for Water Quality Management

The necessity of elemental analysis in assessing water quality has resulted in healthy competition among major companies to provide efficient and reliable services. Bruker stands as a frontrunner in providing elemental analysis services for determining water quality.

ThermoFisher Scientific and Technologiezentrum Wasser (TZW) also provide multi-elemental analysis services to ensure water quality adheres to drinking standards.

What Does the Future Hold?

The toxins and wastes released from industrial processes are contributing to the continuous deterioration of water quality. The International Food Policy Research Institute conducted a study to forecast the quality of water by 2050. The water quality assessment, performed on a global scale using detailed mathematical models, yielded disturbing results.

The study revealed a significant decrease in water quality till 2050., with forecasts indicating a notable rise in nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants. As a result, one in three people could be at risk of nitrogen and phosphorus poisoning.

There is therefore an urgent need for continuous water sample analysis across different regions of the world and the development of effective treatment plans for wastewater.

Substantial investments are required to redevelop water supply infrastructure and enhance water quality management systems to ensure a sustainable future for humans.

References and Further Reading

American Society for Testing Materials. (2018). Standard Test Method for Solvent-Free Membrane Recoverable Oil and Grease by Infrared Determination. [Online] American Society for Testing Materials. Available at: https://www.astm.org/d7575-11r17.html (Accessed on 13 December 2023).

Buker. (2023). Water Analysis. [Online] Bruker. Available at: https://www.bruker.com/en/applications/detection-and-environmental/environmental/water-analysis-environmental.html
(Accessed on 11 December 2023).

Roje, V., Dukić, J., Šutalo, P. (2018). The First Example of Multi-Elemental Analysis of Water Samples from Urban Monumental Fountains—A Case Study from Zagreb (Croatia). Environmental Science and Pollution Research. doi.org/10.1007/s11356-018-3809-x.

Mohamed A., et al. (2022). Analysis Procedure for Elemental Analysis of Water Samples by Spectroil M Instrument. Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry. doi:10.37421/2380-2391.2022.9.393.

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Ibtisam Abbasi

Written by

Ibtisam Abbasi

Ibtisam graduated from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. During his academic career, he has worked on several research projects and has successfully managed several co-curricular events such as the International World Space Week and the International Conference on Aerospace Engineering. Having won an English prose competition during his undergraduate degree, Ibtisam has always been keenly interested in research, writing, and editing. Soon after his graduation, he joined AzoNetwork as a freelancer to sharpen his skills. Ibtisam loves to travel, especially visiting the countryside. He has always been a sports fan and loves to watch tennis, soccer, and cricket. Born in Pakistan, Ibtisam one day hopes to travel all over the world.

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