Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Response to comment on “Persistence of pharmaceutical compounds and other organic wastewater contaminants in a conventional drinking-water-treatment plant”

January 15, 2006

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Centers for Disease Control thank Dr. Till for her comments concerning our research (Till, 2005) and welcome the opportunity to respond. The primary objective of our study was to evaluate the potential for organic wastewater-related contaminants (OWCs), including pharmaceuticals, to survive a conventional drinking-water-treatment process and persist in potable-water supplies (Stackelberg et al., 2004). Our study was supported by two USGS laboratories: the National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL), which provided the HPLC/ESI-MS and CLLE GC/MS data and the Ocala Water Quality and Research Laboratory (OWQRL), which provided the LC/MS data (Stackelberg et al., 2004). Although discussed as distinct techniques by Dr. Till and indicated by differing acronyms to distinguish the laboratories producing the data, as described in our paper, the two LC/MS methods are very similar; they consist of a solid-phase extraction method with analysis of the extract produced using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to an electrospray ionization mass spectrometer operated in the positive mode. The NWQL and OWQRL report ‘trace’ and ‘ultratrace’ determinations of analytes that provide significant benefit for describing the presence and fate of low-level contaminants. For mass spectral methods, an analyte is qualitatively identified by its retention time on the chromatographic column as well as the presence of two or more confirming ions with area ratios that match that of the reference standard compounds. Because of a recognized increased risk of false positives, these qualitative identification criteria are used in conjunction with abundant quality-control samples (detailed below) to confirm detection prior to making an estimate of the concentration. These qualitative identification criteria must be met before a compound is considered present (or detected) in a sample (Oblinger Childress et al., 1999). When a compound has been qualitatively identified in an environmental sample (whether above or below its reporting level [RL]), it is assessed in context with associated field and laboratory blanks, field and laboratory replicates, and other data, such as appropriate laboratory reagent spikes. An environmental concentration is calculated only after determining that field and laboratory procedures did not contaminate the samples. The concentrations are then calculated from 5- to 8-point calibration curves using internal standard quantitation. Our lowest calibration standard is intentionally much lower than the RL, typically 10 times lower. The most abundant molecular or fragment ion is used for quantitation, and, for the two LC/MS methods, at least one, and where possible two, qualifier ions are used for confirmation. For the GC/MS method, with its greater degree of fragmentation, one quantitation and two qualifier ions are used. When any of the abovementioned qualitative identification criteria are not met, the analyte is considered not present and is reported as “less than” the RL.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2006
Title Response to comment on “Persistence of pharmaceutical compounds and other organic wastewater contaminants in a conventional drinking-water-treatment plant”
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.04.012
Authors Paul E. Stackelberg, Edward T. Furlong, Michael T. Meyer, Steven D. Zaugg, Alden K. Henderson, Dori B. Reissman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70184416
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program