Environmental pollution

Environmental Organic Chemistry and Technology Research Group

The Environmental Organic Chemistry and Technology Research Group (EnVOC), led by professors Herman Van Langenhove, Jo Dewulf and Kristof Demeestere, investigates environmental issues related to organic micropollutants in a multi-disciplinary approach. Next to the development, optimization and implementation of state-of-the-art and advanced analytical techniques necessary to identify and/or quantify these trace compounds (analytical chemistry), focus is also put on their occurrence, fate and physical-chemical behaviour in different environmental matrices (environmental chemistry). Next, innovative technologies are studied contributing in both a curative (environmental technolology) and preventive (sustainability assessment and clean technology) way to a more sustainable (aquatic) environment.


Particularly towards the chemical analysis of water bodies and related matrices, both fundamental and application work is performed based on high-resolution (tandem) mass spectrometry (magnetic sector ion trap and Orbitrap based Q-ExactiveTM MS) coupled to ultra-performance liquid and gas chromatography, and modern sample preparation (e.g. solid-phase extraction, pressurized liquid extraction). Initially, the research focus was on volatile organic compounds (VOCs). More recently, activities have been extended towards the emerging organic micropollutants like pharmaceutical residues in the aquatic environment, next to other types of bio-active ultra-trace compounds in environmental and biological matrices.

For info on research activities on water treatment technology: see Section “Technologies”.

Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology

The Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology, led by professors Janssen, Goethals and De Schamphelaere, focusses both on fundamental and applied aspects of aquatic ecotoxicology and ecological risk assessment. Main research topics include the effects (at different levels of biological organization in both marine and freshwater environments) and the presence and availability of environmental contaminants in general and of metals, endocrine disruptors, natural toxins and persistent chemicals in particular.



The laboratory is composed of various sub-groups studying:

  1. The bioavailability and effects of metals in freshwater and marine ecosystems (sediment and water); 
  2. Acclimation (epigenetics), adaptation and micro-evolutionary consequences of stressors on aquatic organisms (both anthropogenic contaminants and global change stressors such as toxic algae);
  3. The presence and ecological effects of existing and new chemicals in the marine environment (endocrine disruptors, persistent substances, pharmaceutical substances) using new techniques (e.g. passive samplers);
  4. Development and validation of ecosystem models for the evaluation of indirect and direct effects of environmental contaminants and other stressors on the aquatic environment. 

Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry and Applied Ecochemistry

The Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry and Applied Ecochemistry, led by professors Tack and Du Laing, studies chemical and biological behaviour of nutrients and toxic elements in natural ecosystems and in agriculture. They study the fate of heavy metals in intertidal river banks in the Scheldt estuary, in accordance with different degrees of salinity. Bio-availability is investigated as a linking of the heavy metal content and speciation in organisms and plants to the content and speciation of the metals in the sediments. They furthermore focus on the effect of changing redox conditions and salinity on metal mobility and availability. 

Laboratory of Chemical Analysis

The Laboratory of Chemical Analysis, led by professor Vanhaecke, focusses on the identification and quantification of residues (veterinary drugs, hormones, thyreostats, etc.), contaminants (marine toxins, micropollutants, etc.) and food constituents (antioxidants, etc.) or metabolites thereof in various matrices of animal or plant-based origin, with as a final end point to ensure food safety and quality and a good environmental status in relation to human health. To this extent, the Laboratory intends to apply the most recent, sensitive and accurate mass spectrometric methodology including targeted multi-compound as well as untargeted metabolomic approaches.