Overhead shot of a water treatment plant

Our aim is to further the understanding of the sources, risks and impacts of new or emerging chemical contaminants in the environment. We provide support to early warning systems to rapidly identify chemical exposures having immediate and/or longstanding risks to public health and our environment. For example, our focus ranges from monitoring the impact of waste from every-day usage of chemicals by the general public to identifying chemical exposure from our water, to identifying imminent chemical threats in air to public safety such as those posed by terrorism. We monitor hundreds to thousands of chemical residues in our projects including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, illicit drugs, pesticides, disinfectant by-products, explosives/nerve agents, industrial chemicals and extractables/leachables, but we also perform horizon scoping work and assess and add to this list on an ongoing basis as appropriate. We monitor across all environmental compartments including soil, water, air and biota and our work is largely underpinned with expertise in (bio)analytical chemistry and toxicology. In parallel with laboratory science, we embrace computational approaches using AI-enhanced analysis and predictive toxicology using large datasets derived from complex environmental samples. We embrace integration and collaboration with industry, especially to help build early pipeline sustainable programmes for chemical product design, boost analysis capability for monitoring and to help inform response teams/policy makers regarding the risks of chemicals in the environment.

Research areas

  • Analytical Science: We develop new methodologies, technologies and protocols for measurement of chemicals in most sample types. We have particular expertise in separation science and mass spectrometry, but also integration of predictive artificial intelligence-based tools to maximise understanding from complex datasets.
  • Chemical Risk Assessment: We assess the risks posed by new and emerging chemical residues we find in the environment. We also specialise in ecotoxicology to understand whether chemicals pose a negative impact on humans, flora and fauna in the environment. This includes measuring and evaluating the risks posed by chemicals present in our drinking water, food, commercial products we consume and the air we breathe. 
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology: We monitor population level exposure and consumption patterns of chemicals by analysing wastewater. From this, we have been able to estimate illicit drug consumption behaviour across multiple cities and countries and perform near-real time monitoring of population health and exposure using data generated for pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other industrial chemicals. For example, we are members of the Sewage analysis CORE (SCORE) consortium, performing this work on a global level including contributing illicit drug consumption data to the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction for London since 2011.
  • Environmental Forensics: We focus on identifying chemical signatures that may indicate illegal activity including contact or clandestine manufacturing of illicit substances, chemical pollution or identifying imminent threats to public safety. We specialise in identifying trace chemical signatures in forensic evidence types such as fingermarks, biological materials, as well as soil, water and air.

Team members

Dr L Barron – Team Lead
Dr K Ng – Research Fellow
Ms L Birkitt - PhD Student
Ms A Richardson – PhD Student
Ms D Almekdad - PhD Student