Input, fate and effects of trace organic pollutants in the environment

In the Campos project P1 Rivers we are appling a combination of non-target screening (NTS) by high-resolution MS and cell-based bioassays (toxicity-tests) to identify chemical risk drivers and to quantify shifts in signal patterns indicative of turnover processes of complex compound mixtures.

Campos – Catchments as reactors (DFG SFB 1253, coordinated research center, Speaker: Peter Grathwohl);

Project P1 Rivers: Assessing pollutant turnover in rivers by target, non-target, and toxicity analysis (2017 – 2020).

Collaborators: Beate Escher, Christiane Zarfl, Marc Schwientek (Univ. Tübingen).


Project P1 Rivers

General approach of P1

In the “River” project P1 we combine the following methods to answer the research questions:

  • Lagrangian sampling of river segments of contrasting characteristics
  • Target and non-target screening with low and high resolution mass spectrometry (LRMS and HRMS) to detect pollutant patterns and transformation products
  • Cell-based bioassays for different modes of toxic action as risk-scaled sum parameters of mixtures of pollutants
  • Mass-balance models using chemical and bioanalytical equivalent concentrations (BEQ)


  • Combining chemical and toxicological analysis to assess water quality in the Ammer River and its tributaries
  • Quantification of the attenuation of micropollutants in different reaches of the Ammer River
  • Analyzing micropollutant and toxicological effect dynamics during a rain event

Project S1

A major part of the CAMPOS research projects relies on field investigations, sampling campaigns, and laboratory analyses. The service project S1 supports therefore all field- and lab-oriented CAMPOS projects by

  • guidance in site investigations and field sampling campaigns
  • analytical measurements of tracers and water chemical parameters
  • non-target screening approaches for a wide range of compounds.


  • Müller, M.E., Werneburg, M., Glaser, C., Schwientek, M., Zarfl, C., Escher, B.I. and Zwiener, C. (2020) Influence of emission sources and tributaries on the spatial and temporal patterns of micropollutant mixtures and associated effects in a small river. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 39(7), 1382-1391.   DOI: 10.1002/etc.4726
  • Glaser, C., Zarfl, C., Werneburg, M., Böckmann, M., Zwiener, C. and Schwientek, M. (2020) Temporal and spatial variable in-stream attenuation of selected pharmaceuticals. Science of the Total Environment 741, 139514.   DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.139514
  • Guillet, G., Knapp, J.L.A., Merel, S., Cirpka, O.A., Grathwohl, P., Zwiener, C. and Schwientek, M. (2019) Fate of wastewater contaminants in rivers: Using conservative-tracer based transfer functions to assess reactive transport. Science of the Total Environment 656, 1250-1260.
  • Müller, M.E., Vikstrom, S., König, M., Schlichting, R., Zarfl, C., Zwiener, C. and Escher, B.I. (2019) Mitochondrial toxicity of selected micropollutants, their mixtures and surface water samples measured by the oxygen consumption rate in cells. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 38(5), 1000-1011.
  • Müller, M.E., Escher, B.I., Schwientek, M., Werneburg, M., Zarfl, C. and Zwiener, C. (2018) Combining in vitro reporter gene bioassays with chemical analysis to assess changes in the water quality along the Ammer River, Southwestern Germany. Environmental Sciences Europe 30(1), 20.   10.1186/s12302-018-0148-y

Antibiotics in sewage sludge

Antibiotics are a significant group of pharmaceuticals that are extensively used by humans and animals against microbial infections. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have been generally suggested to be a dominant source of antibiotics present in the environment. The analytical determination from sewage sludge is challenging

TWAS-Antibio: QuEChERS exraction method for selected antibiotics in sewage sludge (DFG-TWAS; guest scientist: Akinranti Ajibola, Ibadan, Nigeria; Sept.-Dec. 2017)

Collaborator: Akinranti Ajibola, Ibadan, Nigeria


  • Ajibola, A., Tisler, S. and Zwiener, C. (2020) Simultaneous determination of multiclass antibiotics in sewage sludge based on QuEChERS extraction and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Analytical Methods.

Further projects and work focusing on the occurrence of trace organic pollutants in the environment and the identification of transformation products

MetaboS: Identification, occurrence and fate of pharmaceutical metabolites and conjugates in surface waters (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU), PhD grant for Sascha Lege 2014-2016)


  • Lege, S., Eisenhofer, A., Heras, J.E.Y. and Zwiener, C. (2019) Identification of transformation products of denatonium – Occurrence in wastewater treatment plants and surface waters. Science of the Total Environment 686, 140-150.
  • Lege, S., Guillet, G., Merel, S., Yanez Heras, J.E. and Zwiener, C. (2017) Denatonium – A so far unrecognized but ubiquitous water contaminant? Water Research 112, 254-260.
  • Merel, S., Benzing, S., Gleiser, C., Di Napoli-Davis, G. and Zwiener, C. (2018) Occurrence and overlooked sources of the biocide carbendazim in wastewater and surface water. Environmental Pollution 239, 512-521.

Compost: Screening for contaminants in compost and fermentation residues (Ministerium für Umwelt, Klima und Energiewirtschaft; 2015-2016).

Sludge: Screening for contaminants in sewage sludge (Ministerium für Umwelt, Klima und Energiewirtschaft; 2013).

ETrap: Electron transfer processes in anoxic aquifers (DFG Research Unit 580; speaker: S. Peiffer, University of Bayreuth).

The contribution of low-molecular weight acids (LMWA) and dissolved organic sulfur compounds (DOSC) to the effects of dissolved organic matter (DOM) on redox processes (2009-2014).

Measurement and occurrence of metabolites and their role as electron donors and indicators of biochemical degradation in aquifers (2006 – 2009).


  • Jobelius, C., Frimmel, F.H. and Zwiener, C. (2014) Mass spectrometric screening and identification of acidic metabolites in fulvic acid fractions of contaminated groundwater. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 406(14), 3415-3429.   10.1007/s00216-014-7783-y
  • Jobelius, C., Ruth, B., Griebler, C., Meckenstock, R.U., Hollender, J., Reineke, A., Frimmel, F.H. and Zwiener, C. (2011) Metabolites Indicate Hot Spots of Biodegradation and Biogeochemical Gradients in a High-Resolution Monitoring Well. Environmental Science & Technology 45(2), 474-481.   10.1021/es1030867
  • Zwiener, C., Ohlenbusch, G. and Frimmel, F.H. (2003) Geochemical Processes in Soil and Groundwater Measurement-Modelling-Upscaling. Schulz, H.D. and Hadeler, A. (eds), pp. 224-238, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim.
  • Ohlenbusch, G., Zwiener, C., Meckenstock, R.U. and Frimmel, F.H. (2002) Identification and quantification of polar naphthalene derivatives in contaminated groundwater of a former gas plant site by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography A 967(2), 201-207.   10.1016/s0021-9673(02)00785-9
  • Kumke, M.U., Zwiener, C., Abbt-Braun, G. and Frimmel, F.H. (1999) Spectroscopic characterization of fulvic acid fractions of a contaminated groundwater. Acta Hydrochimica et Hydrobiologica 27(6), 409-415.   10.1002/(sici)1521-401x(199912)27:6<409::aid-aheh409>;2-v
  • Zwiener, C., Kumke, M.U., Abbt-Braun, G. and Frimmel, F.H. (1999) Adsorbed and bound residues in fulvic acid fractions of a contaminated groundwater - Isolation, chromatographic and spectroscopic characterization. Acta Hydrochimica et Hydrobiologica 27(4), 208-213.   10.1002/(sici)1521-401x(199907)27:4<208::aid-aheh208>;2-v