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Chromatography helps us understand the world and why things happen as they do. Researchers utilize this technique to analyze the environment. Labs can separate particles from a mixture and analyze how the specific particles affect the planet. Here, our team breaks down the different applications of chromatography in environmental analysis and why they’re important.

Analyzing Air Pollution

Poor air quality affects the quality of life for many people across the globe. Air pollution causes premature death, and in some parts of the world, poor air quality even affects people’s ability to be outside or breathe normally. Although the Clean Air Act regulates all sources of air emissions in the U.S., air pollution still occurs across the rest of the globe. Big cities see more pollution than rural areas, but pollution looms around the world.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists ground-level ozone, particle matter, carbon monoxide, lead, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide as the six groups of air pollutants. Chromatography allows scientists to separate these particles from a mixture to better understand how they affect the air in different ways. It also allows researchers to analyze particle matter in the air and identify the causes of the air pollution.

Chromatography is useful because it helps researchers learn more in-depth information about the environment. Researchers attempt to identify the chemical composition of particles because knowing their composition would allow regulators to target the sources of the particles. This would also allow the researchers to know the hazards present with these particles. By using chromatography, researchers can detect any carcinogenic or otherwise hazardous effects associated with the particle matter.

Observing air pollution is one of the applications of chromatography in environmental analysis. One type of particle matter being analyzed by chromatography is particle matter 10 micrometers, or PM10, which is associated with diesel engines. PM10 also comes from industrial and construction processes. This primarily affects towns and cities by decreasing the quality of air and negatively affecting people in those areas. PM10 pollution increases the chance of suffering from respiratory illness. The proven negative effects of PM10 implore scientists to research its composition in more depth. Any findings regarding PM10 could save lives and improve the quality of life for many people.

Analyzing Oil Spills

Another example of how chromatography is used in environmental analysis is through fingerprinting the oil in oil spills in the ocean. Oil spills often occur in marine areas, often by accident but sometimes with malicious intent. They often involve tankers, pipelines, drilling rigs, refineries, or something similar in nature. They’re often caused accidentally by broken equipment or natural disasters; however, they’re also caused by humans, whether by accident or deliberately.

The source of the oil spill must be investigated because it causes biodegrading to take place. Oil spills affect the water, beaches, and coastlines. Oil spills that occur in the oceans and seas also have negative effects on marine life. Finding the source of this damage is essential because it could save the lives of animals and preserve the condition of coral reefs. Scientists use chromatography because it gives them a better understanding of how oil spills affect the water and the life inhabiting it. Scientists utilize chromatography to determine the cause of the oil spill by separating the particles from the mixture.

Chromatography is used to characterize and analyze components known as unresolved complex mixtures, which are made up of saturated hydrocarbons. Chromatography allows scientists to quantify the extent of biodegrading in the environment as well as the rate at which the biodegrading is occurring. During investigation, fingerprinting is used to determine if the oil in the environment is from an emptied bilge tank or if the spill happened accidentally.

Analyzing Plastic Pollution

Plastic is produced by the tons each year, and as humans use it up, much of it winds up being thrown away. Although humans know the damage that plastic does, there’s no end in sight. Unfortunately, while some of the plastic ends up in a landfill, much of it also ends up in the oceans and seas. Plastic is derived from crude oil, so the damage is really a chain reaction. Using nonrenewable resources to create this harmful product damages the Earth. This damage will take years to repair, but research helps to identify and understand more about the problem.

Plastic has its benefits for humans, but it does nothing for marine life. Chromatography is an analytical way of understanding the effects of plastic on marine life such as turtles. Samples from the animal are analyzed using chromatography to better identify what the turtle has ingested. Analyzing the particles with chromatography gives researchers a better idea of what exactly is negatively affecting wildlife. The hope is that research of this nature will motivate a decrease in plastic production and consumption.

Chromatography also helps scientists and researchers understand the environment by identifying the various compounds and particles in mixtures. An HPLC machine works by utilizing a separating technique call high-performance liquid chromatography. A variety of industries utilize HPLC to identify or quantify the compounds present in any sample dissolved in a liquid.

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Applications of Chromatography in Environmental Analysis