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Sci. Total Environ..2019 Nov;689:679-690. S0048-9697(19)32909-2. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.06.336.Epub 2019-06-26.


Flexible high resolution-mass spectrometry approach for screening new psychoactive substances in urban wastewater.

  • Noelia Salgueiro-González
  • Sara Castiglioni
  • Emma Gracia-Lor
  • Lubertus Bijlsma
  • Alberto Celma
  • Renzo Bagnati
  • Félix Hernández
  • Ettore Zuccato
PMID: 31279214 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.06.336.



The number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) on the recreational drug market has increased rapidly in the last years, creating serious challenges for public health agencies and law enforcement authorities. Epidemiological surveys and forensic analyses to monitor the consumption of these substances face some limitations for investigating their use on a large scale in a shifting market. The aim of this work was to develop a comprehensive and flexible screening approach for assessing the presence of NPS in urban wastewater by liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS). Almost 200 substances were selected as "priority NPS" among those most frequently and recently reported by the Early Warning Systems (EWS) of different agencies and were included in the screening. Wastewater samples were collected from several cities all over Europe in 2016 and 2017, extracted using different solid-phase cartridges and analysed by LC-HRMS. The screening workflow comprised three successive analytical steps and compounds were identified and confirmed following specific criteria from the current guidelines. Thirteen NPS were identified at different confidence levels by using analytical standards or information from libraries and literature, and about half of them were phenethylamines. As far as we know, this is the first time that four of them (i.e. 3,4-dimethoxy-α-pyrrolidinovalerophenone, para-methoxyamphetamine, 2-phenethylamine and α-methyltryptamine) have been found in urban wastewater. The proposed screening approach was successfully applied in the largest NPS European wastewater monitoring, providing an innovative and easily adapted procedure for investigating NPS. In the light of current challenges and specific future research issues, this approach may complement epidemiological information and help in establishing measures for public health protection.

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