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Development of methods for the analysis of hydrocarbons and organic micro-pollutants in the marine environment

Research project MN/DD2/003 (Research action MN)

Persons :

Description :


Our goal is to make reliable, fast and low cost analytical tools available to authorities for the identification and quantification of organic micro-pollutants. Those tools will fit the priority needs for the OSPAR convention. The laboratory has focused on dioxins, furans and dioxin-like PCBs, within the perspective of BELTEST accreditation. Analyses of other compounds such as poly-brominated molecules are under development. The laboratory is working on the optimisation of reference methods. It also develops semi-quantitative methods for rapid evaluation of large samples series. These are physico-chemical and biological methods.

Expected results

The laboratory is developing an analytical strategy that fit the requested degree of precision. Three degrees can be drawn out :

1. The rapid screening will give a global image of the contamination in target compounds, without discrimination between molecules of similar effects. The response will be expressed as total toxic equivalents. Techniques for such application will consist in biological methods (EIA, CALUX, BIACORE). Such results are useful in a phase of exploratory measurements, in order to follow a temporal or spatial trend of a pollution, as well as for the determination of the contamination levels with reference to an established norm.

2. The semi-quantitative evaluation of the pattern of congeners within a compounds family allows to obtain an image of the sources of contamination and to follow the preferential bio-accumulation of certain congeners. The method used in this case is a coupling between gas chromatography and MS-MS mass spectrometry.

3. The confirmation of data is performed with a reference method. This method allows to quantify variations in the contamination patterns, to compare results obtained in different sampling conditions (seasonal variations, compartments of a sampling site, ...), and to reach very low quantification limits. Such a reference method requires a coupling between gas chromatography and high resolution mass spectrometry. The quantification is obtained by the isotopic dilution method, with compounds labelled with 12 atoms of carbon 13 (13C12).

This strategy is currently applied for the analysis of dioxins, furans and coplanar PCBs. Its application to other compounds is also under development in our laboratory, which possess not only the necessary measuring techniques but also efficient sample preparation apparatuses (SFE, ASE, GPC, Power-PrepTM, ...).

In parallel, a proteomic approach is in preparation. Its goal is the identification and estimation of the intoxication level by proteic bio-markers, and requires techniques as matrix assisted laser desorption (MALDI-MS) and electrospray (ESI-MS).

Partners and interactions

In order to apply the developed methods, the laboratory is in contact with partners providing marine samples. These are networks of the program "sustainable management of the North Sea".

1. Research contract MN/DD1/005 "Birds and mammals of the North Sea : pathology and eco-toxicology". Samples of mammals and birds are provided by the laboratory for oceanology, U.Lg. (Professeur J.-M. Bouquegneau).

2. Research contract MN/DD1/003 "ICAS : impact of heavy metals and poly-chloro biphenyls associated with the sediments of the North Sea". Samples of sea-stars and sediments are provided by the laboratory of marine biology, U.L.B. (Docteur P. Dubois).

3. Research contract MN/DD1/006 " IDOD : Integrated and dynamic management of oceanographic data" (S. Scory, MUMM). These contacts are taken for future analyses campaigns.

Documentation :

For further information:
Université de Liège - Laboratoire de Spectrométrie de Masse
Institut de Chimie B6, 4000 Liège
Tel: (041) 66 34 15 Fax: (041) 66 34 13 E-mail:

Development of methods for the analysis of hydrocarbons and organic micro-pollutants in the marine environment: summary    Brussels: OSTC, 2002 (SP1046)
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Développement de méthodes d'analyse des hydrocarbures et micro-polluants organiques dans le milieu marin: résumé    Bruxelles: SSTC, 2002 (SP1047)
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Ontwikkeling van analysemethoden voor koolwaterstoffen en organische micropolluenten in het mariene milieu: samenvatting    Brussel: DWTC, 2002 (SP1048)
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Développement de méthodes d'analyse des hydrocarbures et micropolluants organiques en milieu marin : rapport final  Houziaux, J.S. - De Pauw, E.  Bruxelles : SSTC, 2002 (SP1089)
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