Tracking changes in composition and amount of dissolved organic matter throughout drinking water treatment plants by comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–quadrupole mass spectrometry
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) can affect the performance of water treatment processes and produce undesirable disinfection by-products during disinfection. Several studies have been undertaken on the structural characterization of DOM, but its fate during drinking water treatment processes is still not fully understood. In this work, the nontargeted screening method of comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography-quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC × GC-qMS) was used to reveal the detailed changes of different chemical classes of compounds in DOM during conventional and advanced drinking water treatment processes at three drinking water treatment plants in China. The results showed that when the dissolved organic carbon removal was low, shifts in the DOM composition could not be detected with the specific ultraviolet absorbance at 254 nm, but the changes were clear in the three-dimensional fluorescence excitation-emission matrix or GC × GC-qMS analyses. Coagulation-sedimentation processes selectively removed 37–59% of the nitrogenous compounds, alcohols and aromatic hydrocarbons but increased the concentrations of halogen-containing compounds by 17–26% because of the contact time with chlorine in this step. Filtration was less efficient at removing DOM but preferentially removed 21–60% of the acids. However, other organic matter would be released from the filter (e.g., nitrogenous compounds, acids, and aromatic hydrocarbons). Biological activated carbon (BAC) treatment removed most of the compounds produced from ozonation, particularly ketones, alcohols, halogen-containing compounds and acids. However, it should be noted that certain highly polar or high molecular weight compounds not identified in this study might be released from the BAC bed. After the whole treatment processes, the concentrations of nitrogenous compounds, alcohols, alkenes, aromatic hydrocarbons and ketones were decreased more by the advanced treatment processes than by the conventional treatment processes. Alcohol and ketone removals were probably related to the reduction in protein-like materials. Alkane removal was probably related to the reduction in fulvic acid-like and humic acid-like materials.