Reactivity-directed analysis – a novel approach for the identification of toxic organic electrophiles in drinking water†
Drinking water consumption results in exposure to complex mixtures of organic chemicals, including natural and anthropogenic chemicals and compounds formed during drinking water treatment such as disinfection by-products. The complexity of drinking water contaminant mixtures has hindered efforts to assess associated health impacts. Existing approaches focus primarily on individual chemicals and/or the evaluation of mixtures, without providing information about the chemicals causing the toxic effect. Thus, there is a need for the development of novel strategies to evaluate chemical mixtures and provide insights into the species responsible for the observed toxic effects. This critical review introduces the application of a novel approach called Reactivity-Directed Analysis (RDA) to assess and identify organic electrophiles, the largest group of known environmental toxicants. In contrast to existing in vivo and in vitro approaches, RDA utilizes in chemico methodologies that investigate the reaction of organic electrophiles with nucleophilic biomolecules, including proteins and DNA. This review summarizes the existing knowledge about the presence of electrophiles in drinking water, with a particular focus on their formation in oxidative treatment systems with ozone, advanced oxidation processes, and UV light, as well as disinfectants such as chlorine, chloramines and chlorine dioxide. This summary is followed by an overview of existing RDA approaches and their application for the assessment of aqueous environmental matrices, with an emphasis on drinking water. RDA can be applied beyond drinking water, however, to evaluate source waters and wastewater for human and environmental health risks. Finally, future research demands for the detection and identification of electrophiles in drinking water via RDA are outlined.