ICPR – International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine

Pilot project on non-target screening

The states in the Rhine River basin have been cooperating for decades in order to preserve, protect and improve the water quality of the Rhine. The Rhine, which serves important functions for industry and transport, is an important habitat for freshwater organisms and a source of drinking water. The water quality of the Rhine has significantly improved. However, pollution from diffuse sources and micropollutants still poses a challenge. Until today, monitoring of the water quality is mostly done on an predefined selection of target substances, that are known to harm the environment. There is also experience with detecting unknown or suspected compounds by means of gas-chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

In recent years, a new and innovative measurement and evaluation methodology, the so-called non-target screening (NTS) by means of liquid chromatography coupled with high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS/MS) has emerged. It is already applied by several measuring stations along the Rhine. This allows to detect a very broad spectrum of substances including substances that are yet not monitored in the scope of environmental protection.

To optimize the methodology and to link the initiatives from the different stations, the ICPR and five authorities, that are responsible for river monitoring programmes, have launched a pilot project that began in 2021 and runs until 2024. The project is partly funded by the European Union under the EU LIFE programme.

The goal of the project is to develop a new approach for an international, centralized, innovative and fast data processing, evaluation and storage of non-target screening data that can be applied in the daily routine of the monitoring stations. The NTS Tool developed within the project will allow the daily monitoring of a very large number of known, suspected and previously unknown environmental pollutants. This approach allows fast identification (early warning) of known and unknown substances and detection of the source of pollution (domestic, industrial, agricultural or natural). This NTS Tool contributes to the fulfilment of the objectives declared in the “Rhine 2040” programme.

Find out more about the NTS project on the following subpages.