Over the past several years, there has been a significant shift in our awareness of the environmental impact we have on the world around us. However, human activities are driving higher volumes of chemicals into the environment, all without a proper understanding of their fate or impacts. Due to this, it has become more important than ever to increase scientific studies, monitoring and remediation of our environment to help protect our plant. To celebrate this year’s World Environmental day (5th June), we wanted to dive into some of the pressing environmental issues we face  today and discuss how deployable and real-time diagnosis can put us on the right track to solving them.


  1. PFAS “forever chemicals”

What are they?

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances  (PFAS) have been nicknamed ‘forever chemicals’ as they don’t breakdown, leading to bio-accumulation in our environment and in the human body over time. These compounds are man-made and were developed in the 1940s. Their useful properties include being non-stick and water resistant.

How do they affect us and the environment?

With the range of products using PFAS, most people are being exposed to them on a daily basis. Some of these PFAS accumulate in the human body over time and can cause adverse health issues, these include:

  • Reproductive and development issues
  • Liver and Kidney problems
  • Effects on the immune system
  • Cancer
  • Thyroid hormone disruption
  • And most commonly, increased cholesterol levels

(ref: EPA website, accessed June 2021)

What is the importance in detection and monitoring them?

According to the Nordic council of Ministers, the cost of inaction regarding PFAS in the environment and for human health has been estimated at EUR 250Bn pa, in Europe alone. With the known health issues the accumulation of PFAS causes, government bodies around the world are increasing their commitment to address this issue. Although there are more countries implementing regulation for the monitoring of PFAS , there is still the need for real-time data of these compounds in wastewater treatment facilities.   Remote analytical testing will help improve the monitoring and remediation of PFAS, for this more portable and accessible detection methods are required.


  1. Opioids

What are they?

In the 1990s, opioid pain relivers were heavily prescribed, with many pharmaceutical companies assuring the medical community that such drugs would not be addictive. As a result, this led to widespread diversion and misuse, with more and more people dying of overdoses.


How do they affect us and the environment?

It is not just humans that are being affected by the Opioid epidemic. The human body metabolises these drugs, sometimes into other opioids, which then end up accumulating in wastewater. This leads to concerns for the aquatic life in the surrounding environment.

What is the importance in detection and monitoring them?

Government agencies are working with local pharmacies in the monitoring of opioids in our environment. This provides vital information for mapping opioid misuse in local communities and ensure help is provided to those who need it. This is extremely useful in tackling the opioid epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year. This analysis needs to take place at the point of need to be able to monitor and map the opioid usage, and therefore deployable instrumentation is imperative.


  1. Illicit drugs/drugs of abuse

What are they?

Illicit drugs are highly addictive and illegal substances, such as cocaine, opium and ecstasy, to name a few.  Globally, government and policing bodies heavily monitor and control these substances, with laws differing from country to country.

How do they affect us and the environment?

It has been widely reported the social and economical impact of the production, distribution, and consumption of illicit drugs, but this also has a massive effect on our environment.  These include:

  • Deforestation
  • Water contamination
  • Dumping of chemical waste
What is the importance in detection and monitoring them?

China is using their monitoring of illicit drugs via wastewater-based epidemiology, to tackle illegal drug use. This is a novel way of mapping out illegal drug usage and other countries around the world are starting to develop and use this approach. This change in forensic technic calls for more portable and real-time detection capabilities.


  1. Antibiotics

What are they?

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat most bacterial infections and work by killing the bacteria or preventing them from reproducing.

How do they affect us and the environment?

The body excretes antibiotics and they end up in water treatment facilities, ultimately affecting aquatic life.. Overtime, this build-up of antibiotics causes us, as a community, to become more and more resilient to the antibiotics we are being prescribed.

What is the importance in detection and monitoring them?

This increase in resistance to antibiotics has been stated by the UN as a global health emergency. They reported that this could result in the deaths of 10 million people by 2050. Scientific studies have shown  that monitoring antibiotics in the environment could contribute to maintaining our ecosystems health through:

  • Reducing spread and evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Address the risk to aquatic life and other organisms.
  • Monitor the human usage and resistance of antibiotics.


  1. Pesticides

What are they?

Pesticides are used a lot in agriculture to control pests, weeds, and diseases to protect plants and crops. Common examples of pesticides are:

  • Insecticides
  • Fungicides
  • Herbicides
  • Molluscicides
  • Plant growth regulators
How do they affect us and the environment?

Although used for plant protection and utilised on land, these compounds end up in our aquatic ecosystem, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and even the ocean. This contamination of water results in the aquatic life dying and throws whole ecosystems off balance. There is also a large issue with pesticides leeching into ground water and drink water supplies, making them unhealthy for human consumption. Several pesticides have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, ADHD and birth defects.

What is the importance in detection and monitoring them?

To ensure that aquatic ecosystems are protected and drinking water supplies are not contaminated, the monitoring and regulation of pesticides is essential. To assess the spread of these compounds in the environment, mapping and continuous real-time monitoring is needed. This is where point-of-need analytical methods are required.


It is not all bad news – deployable detection methods can help!

With the recent development of miniaturised analytical equipment, such as mass spectrometry (MS) and liquid chromatography (LC), point-of-need detection is more achievable than ever. Large, centralised labs already use these types of analytical tools in the detection of all the above substances Moving these detection tools to the point of need allows us to monitor whole ecosystems and map these issues by geography and time. With the addition of AI, we can then not only determine what has happened but can help predict what could happen. This is our mission at Microsaic Systems, to utilise our point-of-need instrumentation to help protect human and environmental health.

Implement portable analytical solutions to solve your environmental monitoring needs, get in touch with us to learn more about how Microsaic’s point-of-need products can help.


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