Gordon Getzinger, Nontarget 2020 Organizing Committee, and Tamar Schlekat, SETAC Scientific Affairs Manager

We can all agree that to manage synthetic organic chemicals in the environment and to protect for human and environmental health, it is imperative to be able to accurately identify their chemical structure and measure their concentration in the environment. Mass spectrometry (MS) has long been the preferred method for detecting organic chemicals. MS determines the number and type of atoms in an analyte molecule that is present in the sample.

MS techniques can be used on a sample together with reference standards – material with known composition and purity – to confirm the identity and concentration of analytes in the sample. The standards used are based on the analyte being investigated (i.e., this assumes prior knowledge of analyte in the sample and its concentration range). When reference standards are used in MS assays, methods are termed “targeted analysis.” Therefore, targeted analysis is intrinsically not useful when the analyte in a sample are unknown.

To address short-comings in targeted approaches, analytical chemists developed approaches that leverage the unique capabilities of high-resolution accurate-mass mass spectrometry (HRMS), methods termed “non-targeted analysis.” HRMS has been used for a while to identify unknown analytes. However, recent advancements in instrumentation and lower operating costs, have increased the use of non-targeted analysis. Whereas HRMS experiments of the past may have sought to acquire HRMS data to support the identification of a few contaminants, contemporary HRMS non-target screening seeks to identify thousands of substances in a single analysis. At present, most HRMS non-target analysis only address the question of “which contaminants are present?” necessitating tiered non-targeted the targeted analysis to get both analyte and concentration. However, researchers are working on more time- and cost-efficient solutions.

Non-target analysis has already proved valuable in many ways. It promises to be useful in advancing our understanding of organic chemical fate and transport in the environment and ultimately to help protect our environment.

Non-target experts had a successful meeting in Ascona, Switzerland in 2016, where they advanced the topic. Now, they are following up on that meeting as the field has seen great strides forward. The meeting this year will focus on nontarget analysis for environmental risk assessment. It will delve into the following sub-topics: instrumentation, workflows, method performance, human and ecological exposures, process-oriented studies regulatory and monitoring applications. The program currently includes plenary and keynote presentations by leading experts, a line-up of around 24 thought-provoking presentations, several breakout workshops and 140 posters. Late-breaking science posters are being accepted through 12 May 2020. Registration is now open, with reduced rates available through 25 March 2020.

If you want to learn more about nontarget analysis, clear your schedule 26–30 May 2020 and plan to join the meeting!

Note: We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) spread. Since the meeting is still several months away, we continue to prepare for an onsite meeting as planned. We are also assessing postponement or alternative delivery methods in case the onsite meeting becomes unlikely to be successful. Please continue to register for the meeting as your registration will be honored regardless of meeting format. We will provide you with an update on the situation periodically. Meeting attendees should not book any travel for the moment unless it is refundable.

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