Environmental Testing by GC-MS: Air Monitoring, Water Quality, Soil Contamination and yes, our Food Chain.
Why bother with environmental testing?
Our environment affects everything that we do. We breathe air, play in the dirt, drink water. Not only that, we swim in water, irrigate our crops, gardens, wash our clothes and cars too! Our pets will drink from ponds, lakes and puddles…. While children play in mud, or run on grass, climb trees, jump from rocks, they are exposed to all sorts of contamination. So are the adults! Have you never walked in a street and see puddles left after a rain, watched the strange colour patterns emerging as the light plays on these puddles? That is petrochemical pollution, maybe from oil spills, maybe from a leaking car, maybe just from a transformer or power cable.
Our activities tend to concentrate pollution into the areas where we have the most interactions and in so doing, affect us where we spend most of our time. The simple act of lighting a fire in a house will leave pollutants in this house. Carcinogenic chemicals will stain the various walls, ceilings, furniture, only to be released slowly over time as we come into contact with these surfaces.
We spend all of our time interacting with the environment, have you ever heard of sick building syndrome? Another great example, where the very desks, chairs and tables or even the paint on the walls can make us feel sick and less effective.
Our environment will kill us slowly, over decades as the chemicals we placed there will come back to us in small doses which add up over our lifetimes.
We need to test our environment because not only do we care, but we owe it to ourselves.
Why test by GC-MS?
Most risks in our environment are too small for us to notice. Sure, we can see a car careening down a street towards us or a wave building up in the horizon, but these are random, single events. We can see where the environment is degraded, for example where landfills occur and we can avoid these areas, but what about the silent killers? The stuff too small to be seen by the naked eye and which can kill you slowly over time as you build up your exposure to these killers? That which cannot be seen directly has to be tested by extremely sensitive techniques and with the modern world, our exposure to carbon-based toxins, carcinogens, teratogens, pollutants (and so on) increases every year.
GC-MS allows us to test for these chemicals down to the part-per-billion, or even part-per-trillion level. This technique, when used properly, allows us to test for known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns in our environment.
However, sometimes GC-MS is not enough and GCxGC-MS is required. This enhances our ability to see non-target analytes and therefore change our legislation before these pollutants reach a dangerous level.
Air Pollution – the silent killer
Water is essential for life. We cannot survive for more than 3 days without it. It is clear, transparent, cool, fresh. Water and oil do not mix, which is why it is often assumed that water is safe to drink. Yet, water can be a deadly killer, trapping pollutants and carrying these miles away to a new region.
If you walk along a stream or river and see many waste pipes going into it, you think twice about swimming, A short distance downstream and most of the evidence has disappeared, giving the false impression that it is safe to play in this water. Predators are easy to spot. A crocodile after all is quite big. But a tiny chemical released by a factory upstream will kill you just as easily.