Passive water sampling has several advantages over active methods; it provides time-integrated data, can save on time and cost compared to active methods, and yield high spatial resolution data through co-deployment of simple, cheap units. However, one problem with many sampler designs in current use is that their uptake rates for trace substances of interest are flow-rate dependent, thereby requiring calibration data and other information to enable water concentrations to be derived from the mass per sampler. However, the ‘family’ of samplers employing the principle of diffusive gradients in thin films (DGT) provides an in situ means of quantitatively measuring labile species in aquatic systems without field calibration. So far, this technique has only been tested and applied in inorganic substances: metals, radionuclides, nutrients, etc. Design and applications of DGT to trace organic contaminants (‘o-DGT’) would be of widespread interest. This study describes the laboratory testing and performance characteristics of o-DGT, with the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole (SMX) as a model compound and XAD18 as the novel binding agent. o-DGT uptake of SMX increased with time and decreased with diffusion layer thickness, confirming the principle for SMX. XAD18 showed sufficiently high capacity for SMX for routine field applications. o-DGT measurement of SMX was independent of pH (6–9) and ionic strength (0.001–0.1 M) and not affected by flow rate once above static conditions. The diffusion coefficient of SMX in the sampler was measured using an independent diffusion cell and information is presented to allow temperature correction and derivation of aqueous concentrations from deployed samplers. The potential use of o-DGT for in situ measurement of pharmaceutical antibiotics is confirmed by this study and applications are briefly discussed.
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