UTFacultiesTNWResearchDept MSTMPTResearch projectsCompleted projectsPolar organic contaminants in natural drinking water sources and their removal by reverse osmosis. A high-resolution mass spectrometry study

Polar organic contaminants in natural drinking water sources and their removal by reverse osmosis. A high-resolution mass spectrometry study

Vittorio Albergamo (Uva)

Promotors: Pim de Voogt (UvA), Walter van der Meer (UT). Co-promotor: Emile Cornelissen (Ghent University)

Funded by Water Company Oasen

Defense date:  September 10th, 2019

The Ph.D. thesis can be downloaded here.

Summary of the Ph.D. thesis

Thousands of anthropogenic organic compounds occur in natural drinking water sources such as surface waters and riverbank filtrates. In this thesis, high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) was the main analytical tool to (i) investigate the passage of hydrophilic organics through reverse osmosis (RO) membranes and (ii) characterise polar contaminants in drinking water sources. The potential of liquid chromatography coupled to HRMS to analyse polar organics at environmentally relevant concentrations is shown for a set of contaminants with diverse physicochemical properties in terms of size, hydrophilicity and charge. These target compounds dosed to a raw riverbank filtrate were removed with high efficacy by pilot-scale RO with standard membranes, highlighting RO’s suitability for drinking water production from natural waters requiring minimum pre-treatment. Small uncharged hydrophilics (< 150 Da), (moderately) hydrophobic compounds without a clear correlation to size, and small cations (< 186 Da) were found critical for RO processes. Similar results were obtained using mixed-matrix RO membranes. Non-target screening (NTS) showed that many polar contaminants, including ones hitherto unknown to occur in source waters, are persistent and mobile during riverbank filtration and thus may pass the barriers applied for drinking water production. Effect-based methods (EBMs) with endpoints relevant for human health indicated that full-scale RO removed bioactive contaminants from bank filtrate. Bioactivity metadata of some of these compounds, whose structures were (tentatively) elucidated by NTS, supported the results of the EBMs. The benefits and limitations of the methods used in this thesis are discussed in relation to science, society and drinking water production.


Albergamo, V., Schollée, J.E., Schymanski, E.L., Helmus, R., Timmer, H., Hollender, J., De Voogt, P., Nontarget screening reveals time trends of polar micropollutants in a riverbank filtration system, Environmental Science and Technology, 53 (2019), 7584-7594, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01750 

Albergamo, V., Blankert, B., Cornelissen, E.R.,  Hofs, B., Knibbe, W.-J., van der Meer, W., de Voogt, P., Removal of polar organic micropollutants by pilot-scale reverse osmosis drinking water treatment, Water Research, 148 (2019), 535-545, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watres.2018.09.029

Albergamo, V., Helmus, R.,  de Voogt, P., Direct injection analysis of polar micropollutants in natural drinking water sources with biphenyl liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry, Journal of Chromatography A, 569 (2018), 53-61, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chroma.2018.07.036