Evaluating non-targeted analysis methods for chemical characterization of organic contaminants in different matrices to estimate children’s exposure


Background: Children are vulnerable to environmental exposure of contaminants due to their small size, lack of judgement skills, as well as their proximity to dust, soil, and other environmental sources. A better understanding about the types of contaminants that children are exposed to or how their bodies retain or process these compounds is needed.

Objective: In this study, we have implemented and optimized a methodology based on non-targeted analysis (NTA) to characterize chemicals in dust, soil, urine, and in the diet (food and drinking water) of infant populations.

Methods: To evaluate potential toxicological concerns associated with chemical exposure, families with children between 6 months and 6 years of age from underrepresented groups were recruited in the greater Miami area. Samples of soil, indoor dust, food, water, and urine were provided by the caregivers, prepared by different techniques (involving online SPE, ASE, USE, QuEChERs), and analyzed by liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS). Data post-processing was performed using the small molecule structure identification software, Compound Discoverer (CD) 3.3, and identified features were plotted using Kendrick mass defect plot and Van Krevelen diagrams to show unique patterns in different samples and regions of anthropogenic compound classifications.

Results: The performance of the NTA workflow was evaluated using quality control standards in terms of accuracy, precision, selectivity, and sensitivity, with an average of 98.2%, 20.3%, 98.4% and 71.1%, respectively. Sample preparation was successfully optimized for soil, dust, water, food, and urine. A total of 30, 78, 103, 20 and 265 annotated features were frequently identified (detection frequency >80%) in the food, dust, soil, water, and urine samples, respectively. Common features detected in each matrix were prioritized and classified, providing insight on children’s exposure to organic contaminants of concern and their potential toxicities.

Impact statement: Current methods to assess the ingestion of chemicals by children have limitations and are generally restricted by specific classes of targeted organic contaminants of interest. This study offers an innovative approach using non-targeted analysis for the comprehensive screening of organic contaminants that children are exposed to through dust, soil, and diet (drinking water and food).

Authors: Danni Cui, Joseph Cox, Emily Mejias, Brian Ng, Piero Gardinali, Daniel M Bagner, Natalia Quinete
; Full Source: Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology 2023 Apr 29;1-13. doi: 10.1038/s41370-023-00547-9.