"Panta rhei" - the Oder river and difficulties in identifying contamination

"Panta rhei" - the Oder river and difficulties in identifying contamination

We all follow the media reports of the situation in the Oder river and ask ourselves: how did it happen, who is responsible and why do we still not have a clear answer as to what has poisoned the river on such a large scale? After all, this is the 21st century!

The Oder - the right sample is the key to success

According to the maxim that begins the article, river water flows all the time. If a toxic substance has appeared in the Oder river and it has been an incidental event, for example in the form of an uncontrolled discharge of sewage (which may have affected organisms living in the river), it is important to remember that the substances in question do not stay where they occur, but move with the flow of the river. Therefore, if fish die-offs are observed after a few days, this means that the pollution at the site has already been significantly diluted by the incoming continuous water. Taking a sample from a fish die-off site at an interval of several days may not contribute much to solving the case, as the contamination will simply be washed away. A solution would be to determine the velocity of the river current and try to 'catch' the water a few/several kilometres away.

Environmental CSI - do these possibilities exist?

We can divide laboratory studies into many categories. In this case, I would suggest divisions into qualitative vs. quantitative and accredited vs. non-accredited.

The first of these, qualitative and quantitative methods, allow us to determine whether a substance is present or not. The use of such a method is most often seen in crime series - we ask ourselves, can this not also be the case here? The most commonly used analysers working in this way (qualitative method) are chromatographs with mass detection (GC-MS/MS, LC-MS/MS [1]). The disadvantage of this type of analysis, however, is the lack of information on the concentration of the substance. We find its presence, but we do not know how much of it is in the sample. This therefore requires additional analysis towards a specific substance to determine the amount. With this information, we can consider whether the concentration level found could have caused such an effect on the environment.

Why will test accreditation play an important role?

Detected substances can lead to a small number of sites or production facilities, being a clue leading to the perpetrator. Guilt will be decided by the court on the basis of the evidence gathered. According to Polish legislation, accredited sampling, as well as sample testing, is required in the environmental area. In view of this, we have to take care of the quality of our research from the very beginning. Quantitative testing in Poland is usually not accredited. It therefore takes time to confirm the results obtained with additional, accredited tests to detect these substances and determine whether they are the cause of the situation.

SGS Poland's environmental laboratory specialises in the determination of biogenic substances, metals, organic pollutants such as pesticides, PAHs, BTEX, VOCs, oil-derived substances, as well as microbiological pollutants.

The full range of activities is presented in our accreditation certificate.

[1] GC-MS/MS - gas chromatograph with mass detection equipped with a triple quadrupole/ LC-MS/MS - supercritical phase liquid chromatograph with mass detection equipped with a triple quadrupole

Marcin Kuś, manager of the SGS Environmental Laboratory in Pszczyna and SGS Poland expert


If you would like to know whether your water meets the standards for consumption - order a test in our laboratory. Our experts will help you interpret the results.


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