Identification of chemicals of emerging concern in urine of Flemish adolescents using a new suspect screening workflow for LC-QTOF-MS


An essential step in human biomonitoring or molecular epidemiology programs is to estimate human exposure to environmental chemicals. Despite significant progress in the capabilities of analytical methods, the number of pollutants and their metabolites keeps increasing continuously. Some of these relatively unknown chemicals of emerging concern (CECs) may pose significant health risks to humans and biota, but remain virtually undetected in traditional HBM-studies. Non-target and suspect screening techniques based on high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) perform the detection and identification of compounds without any a priori compound selection or chemical information and provide a more holistic overview of human exposure. In this study, 50 urine samples (25 female and 25 male) from a larger cohort of the Flemish Environment and Health Study (FLEHS IV, 2016-2020) have been submitted to suspect screening analysis, with the aim of detecting and identifying new CECs. For this purpose, an analytical method has been developed, optimised and evaluated in terms of analytical performance. Satisfactory results were obtained in terms of reproducibility, sensitivity and quality control. Data-mining was performed through the combination of two different workflows. The use of two complementary workflows enhanced the number of identified compounds. As a result, 45 CECs have been identified with a level of confidence ranged between 3 and 1. Most of the identified compounds were metabolisation products, many of which were currently not included in the targeted measurements of FLEHS IV. The identified chemicals and metabolites could be used as candidate biomarkers of exposure in future studies. Overall, the newly developed suspect screening workflow of this pilot study provided complementary and promising results for future HBM-programs.

Authors: Noelia Caballero-Casero, Gabriela Castro, Michiel Bastiaensen, Celine Gys, Nik van Larebeke, Greet Schoeters, Adrian Covaci
; Full Source: Chemosphere 2021 Apr 27;280:130683. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.130683.