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Wissen, was drin ist.


March 2017

• Mercury in Food Products
• Nitrate Contamination in Water
• Chlorinated Paraffins
• Veterinary Pharmaceuticals

• Mycotoxins Series: Aflatoxins


Dear Readers,

welcome to spring! In addition to exciting articles around the environmental and food analysis we have summa­rized the latest developments of the themes of "Mercury in Food Products" and "Nitrate Contamination in Water".

Enjoy reading!
Your GBA Laboratory Group 


Mercury in Food Products – Initially Planned Legal Changes Thrown Out

by Mareen Lehmann, GBA Laboratory Group

In our April 2016 Newsletter, we reported on the EU Commission’s plans to regulate the maximum levels of mercury in food exclusively by the EU conta­minant regulation (EC) No 1881/2006. During the process of incorporating the planned product-specific maximum levels for infant food into the contaminant regulation, the European Union’s Legal Service intervened. The maximum le­vels in European pesticide law are based upon the precautionary principle. Exchanging them for product-specific maximum levels in European contaminant law is not possible due to legal reasons.[1] Products for which maximum residue levels were laid down the analytical limit of detection in Commission Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 will continue to be subject to this same regulation. Products for which maximum mercury levels have already been laid down in European contaminant law, (such as fish and seafood, dietary supplements, and newly added, table salt), will be defined in the Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006. These measures indicate that they have given up the intention of lay­ing down maximum levels for the environmental contaminant mercury in a uniform manner in the Commission Regulation 1881/2006.[2]

The EU Commission has already introduced a first bill for the corresponding changes to the Commission Regulation (EC) No 396/2005. Originally, they had planned not to lay down maximum levels for tea, coffee beans, and herbal teas in the contaminant law, because evidence shows that mercury does not transfer to the infusion. Since this is not possible in pesticide law, once again there is the suggestion to set the maximum reside level at the analytical limit of deter­mination, although the new limit of determination has been cut in half to 0.01 mg/kg. This is also planned for hops and oil seeds. The German Federation for Food Law and Food Science (Bund für Lebensmittelrecht und Lebensmittelkun­de e. V.), however, will attempt to defend the previous limit of determination of 0.01 mg/kg. Further product groups, such as mushrooms, will be newly incor­porated into (EC) No 396/2005 with higher maximum residue levels.[2]

The heavy metals lead, cadmium, and mercury are among the environmental contaminants that can represent a health risk to humans and animals depen­ding on the concentration. In addition to occurring naturally, anthropogenic sources can also be responsible for food contamination. For example, mercury can be transferred to plant-based products through the air as a result of inci­neration processes, or from contaminated soil or fertilizers (sludge). Therefore, they can end up in the food chain when these products are used as animal feed or directly as raw produce.

Mercury is just one of the heavy metals that the GBA Laboratory Group tests for in a wide range of matrices as part of our routine operations. We can gladly pro­vide you with comprehensive consulting on this topic and will continue to keep you informed about current developments on our homepage.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either your individual ac­count manager or:

GBA Gesellschaft für Bioanalytik mbH
Dr. Frank Schütt
Tel: +49 (0)40 797172-0


[1] Bund für Lebensmittelrecht und Lebensmittelkunde e.V., BLL-Rundschreiben 103-2017, Accessed on 28.02.2017
[2] Bund für Lebensmittelrecht und Lebensmittelkunde e.V., BLL-Rundschreiben 145-2017, Accessed on 23.03.2017


Nitrate Contamination in Water

by Mareen Lehmann, GBA Laboratory Group

Back in 2013, the EU Commission initiated infringement proceedings against Germany for not adhering to the nitrate regulations in the EU Council Directive 91/676/EEC. Still, no adequate immediate actions have been taken thus far in order to reduce nitrate contamination in surface water and groundwater from agricultural sources. Therefore, the case was submitted to the Court of Justice of the European Union for the third step in the infringement proceedings.[1]

In the “Nitratbericht 2016” (Nitrate Report 2016), it became clear that there were no significant changes in the groundwater condition in Germany. Thus, the thres­hold value for nitrate in groundwater (50 mg/L) was still exceeded at a quarter of the measurement sites.[2] In order to put the EU nitrate guideline into national law, it will be necessary to comprehensively revise the legislation on fertilizers. Since the fertilizer law provides the legal basis for the enactment of a fertilizer regulation in Germany, this would at first require an amendment to the fertilizer law’s preamble and power of authority. Only after these changes are made can the revised fertilizer regulation go into effect.[3] The draft to amend the fertilizer law has already been approved by the German Federal Parliament and Federal Council. On March 31st, 2017, the Federal Council is dealing with the government draft to amend the fertilizer regulation.[4] The following changes are intended[5]:

-  extending the periods when no fertilizers are allowed to be used,
-  expanding the distances that must be kept between fertilizer usage and 
   water bodies,
-  in the future, digestate from biogas facilities should be included in
   the calculation of the nitrogen maximum level (170 kg per hectare),
-  in areas with critical nitrate values, the Federal States can impose special 
   restrictions, in areas that are at lower risk, the restrictions can be loosened.

In the fall of 2015, the cooperative project GROWA+NRW 2021 was started. Participants in the project include the research center “Forschungszentrum Jülich,” the North Rhine-Westphalian state agency for the protection of nature, environment, and consumers (LANUV), the state chamber of agriculture (Land­wirtschaftskammer NRW), and the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute in Brunswick, Germany. Their research focuses on the degree of contamination in groundwater and surface water, as well as the root causes of nitrate contami­nation. The results should contribute to the adoption of targeted steps against nitrate contamination in North Rhine-Westphalia. The project is planned to run until 2019.[6]

At our sites for environmental analysis, the GBA Laboratory Group provides analytical testing for nitrate and other nitrogen compounds using the classic methods. Furthermore, in order to assess denitrification processes in aquifers, the N2/Ar method of determining excess nitrogen was established four years ago. This makes it possible to identify areas with high nitrate levels in diminishing aquifers. Moreover, using this method also enables the amount of sulfates to be derived, which arises from nitrate depletion (oxidation of FeS2). With this innovative method, the GBA Laboratory Group highlights the ability of a medium-sized company to adapt to the demands of the market and react fast to specific requirements by developing new analytical methods or implementing new technology.

Get more information about this topic. We are gladly available to answer your questions:

GBA Gesellschaft für Bioanalytik mbH
Mr. Ralf Murzen
Tel: +49 (0)4101 7946-0


[1], Accessed on 27.03.2017
[2], Accessed on 03.01.2017
[3], Accessed on 10.02.2017
[4], Accessed on 23.03.2017
[5], Accessed on 15.02.2017 
[6], Accessed on 15.11.2016 


Chlorinated Paraffins

by Dr. Sven Steinhauer, GBA Laboratory Group

Chlorinated paraffins (CPs) are mixtures of saturated, mainly unbranched hydro­carbons with variable chain lengths and different degrees of chlorination. They are subdivided according to their chain length: long chain CPs (C>17), medium chain CPs (C14-17), and short chain CPs (C10-13). In this case, the nomenclature only considers the chain length and not the physical-chemical properties. The chlorinated paraffins that are commercially available in Europe exhibit chlorination degrees of up to 71%. The degree of chlorination increases as the chain length decreases.

Short chain liquid chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs) were used as secondary, additional plasticizers in synthetic materials, mainly in PVC for electrical cables and floors. Furthermore, they served as plasticizers and binders in primers, lac­quers, and coatings as well as an additive in caulks and sealants. These appli­cations comprised an estimated 70% of total usage in Germany at the begin­ning of the 1990s. The remaining 30% could be accounted for by their usage as flame retardants in plastics, rubber, and heavy textiles, as well as additives for metalworking fluids. Medium chain chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs) were increa­singly utilized in leather and fur processing for degreasing after tanning. Over the course of the 90s, the usage of short chain chlorinated para­ffins declined significantly and in Germany the production of SCCPs was discontinued in 1995.[1] The total consumption of chlorinated paraffins in Germany for the year 1994 was estimated at 21,000 tons. With the portion of SCCPs presumed to be 15–20%, the SCCP consumption at that time is estimated at 3,200 – 4,2000 tons per year.

Since chlorinated paraffins have a low degree of water solubility, they form micro­drops in water and are adsorbed to a large extent onto organic material, sediment, and/or suspended matter. In animal tests, SCCP has been shown to be bioaccumulative and carcinogenic. After an adaptation phase of several weeks, short chain chlorinated paraffins with a chlorination degree of up to 50% can be degraded by microorganisms. CPs with a higher degree of chlorination also have an observable potential for bioaccumulation.[2,3]

As substances that are hazardous to water, they are listed as priority substan­ces in the European Water Framework Directive (EU-WFD). In the guideline 2002/45/EC, restrictions on the marketing and use of certain hazardous sub­stances and preparations were defined, and member states were called upon to implement these restrictions in their national laws.[4] Germany did this with the sixth act to amend the chemical regulations in May 2003.[5]

In the year 2012, the Commission Re­gulation (EU) No 519/2012 amending Regulation (EC) No 850/2004 ruled to add short chain chlorinated paraffins to the protocol of persistent organic pollutants in Annex I. Consequently, the emis­sions were also able to be strongly reduced in the EU.[6] The amounts that were brought into circulation over the preceding decades are still being released into the environment today, or have not yet degraded over the course of the years. That’s why it is essential to provide effective and high-performance ana­lyses of this substance group.

The GBA Laboratory Group has been offering the determination of chlorinated paraffins in diverse matrices as part of our portfolio for many years. If you have any questions about this or any other topic in the field of environmental or food­stuff analysis, then please contact your individual account manager at the GBA Laboratory Group or:

GBA Gesellschaft für Bioanalytik mbH
Mr. Ralf Murzen
Tel: +49 (0)4101 7946-0


[1]idw (Informationsdienst Wissenschaft), Chlorparaffin-Produktion bei Hoechst, Accessed on 21.05.1995
[2] gewaesserbelastung/orientierende_messungen/6.19Chlorparaffine.pdf; Accessed on 13.03.2017
[3]; Accessed on 13.03.2017
[4]; Accessed on 13.03.2017
[5]*%5B@attr_id='bgbl103s0712.pdf'%5D#__bgbl__%2F%2F*%5B%40attr_id%3D%27bgbl103s0712.pdf%27%5D__1489475692751; Accessed on 13.03.2017
[6]; Accessed on 13.03.2017


Veterinary Pharmaceuticals – Sulfonamides and Fluoroquinolones

by Dr. Sven Steinhauer, GBA Laboratory Group

In agriculture, the usage of veterinary pharmaceuticals with antibiotic properties has fallen by 53% since the year 2011 (the year that the pharmaceutical indust­ry began recording data on it), from 1,706 tons (t) to 805 t. The major substan­ces in terms of the amounts administered in recent years included penicillin, at approximately 299 t, and tetracyclines, approximately 221 t, followed by an esti­mated 82 t of polypeptide antibiotics (colistin), 73 t of sulfonamides, and 52 t of macrolides.

Reserve antibiotics are of particular importance. These have been classified as “Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials” by the World Health Organi­sation and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). For these antibio­tics, the amount of 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins administered did not continue to rise, but instead stabilized at the level of the previous years. The amount of fluoroquinolones administered even sank for the first time since 2011, decreasing 1.8 t (15%) from the previous year.[1]

Nevertheless, significant amounts of veterinary antibiotics have been and con­tinue to be released into the environment via animal dung used as liquid manu­re. For this reason, groundwater near the surface was tested for antibiotics in recent years. The German environmental protection agency (Umweltbundes­amt) presented the results of these tests in its publication series 54/2016 “Unter­suchung eintragsgefährdeter Standorte in Norddeutschland“ (Survey of poten­tially contaminated sites in Northern Germany).[2] The Lower Saxony’s state agency for water supply, coasts, and nature protection (Niedersächsische Lan­desbetrieb für Wasserwirtschaft, Küsten- und Naturschutz – NLWKN) carried out supplementary tests to the environmental agency’s project from June 22nd, 2015 to December 31st, 2016.[3]

In the NLWKN test series, the active ingredients sulfadimidine (SDI), sulfa­methoxazole (SMZ/SMX), and sulfadiazine were detected. The project was also able to determine the source of the groundwater contamination to some extent. In the years to come, monitoring pharmaceutical contamination in our water bo­dies will gain an even greater significance. Therefore, in addition to sulfonami­des, the GBA Laboratory Group has also integrated fluoroquinolones into its portfolio of validated and accredited methods, in order to continue providing a comprehensive spectrum of analysis for pharmaceutical substances.

If you have any questions about this or other topics in the field of environmental and food analysis, then please contact your individual account manager at the GBA Laboratory Group or:

GBA Gesellschaft für Bioanalytik mbH
Dr. Sven Steinhauer
Tel: +49 (0)40 797172-0

[1] Hintergrundinformationen/ 05_Tierarzneimittel/2016/2016_08_03_pi_Antibiotika abgabemenge 2015.html;jsessionid= BDE447ADC098E9151D 86F4269EFCF9B4.2_cid332; Accessed on 12.03.2017
[2] 378/publikationen /texte_54_2016_ aufklaerung_der_ursachen_ von_tierarzneimittelfunden _im_grundwasser.pdf; Accessed on 13.03.2017
[3]; Accessed on 13.03.2017


Mycotoxins Series: Aflatoxins

by Julia Bartels, GBA Laboratory Group

Mycotoxins (toxins produced by certain molds) represent a significant contami­nation problem in foodstuff and animal feed worldwide. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 25% of the world­wide production of food is contaminated with mycotoxins. The term mycotoxin is derived from the Greek word “mykes” (fungus) and the Latin word “toxicum” (poison). It is a collective term for a group of naturally occurring se­condary metabolites that are produced by fungi.[1]

Aflatoxins are among the most important and frequently occurring mycotoxins. The name “aflatoxin” is the shortened form of Aspergillus flavus toxin. The Aspergillus flavus as well as the As­pergillus parasiticus and (rarely) Aspergillus nomius are types of mold that are capable of producing aflatoxins in food. The optimal temperature for growth for these molds ranges between 24–40°C and the optimal temperature for the production of mycotoxins is 20–30°C, which is why these strains of mold that produce toxins are especially common in sub­tropical and tropical regions and less common in temperate zones. In Europe, aflatoxins are also described as “imported toxins” for this reason. These are often found in corn, oilseeds, nuts, rice, sorghum, dried fruits, and also in many spices. The production of aflatoxins depends on several factors, although the conditions of harvesting and storage have the strongest influence. That’s why they are also referred to as storage fungi. In general, their growth is particularly facilitated by product contamination (contact with the ground), drying too slowly outdoors, as well as by high temperatures and high humidity levels. [2]

In total, the aflatoxin group exhibits more than 20 different individual substan­ces, although only aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, and G2 occur as toxins in plant-based foods. From these four mycotoxins, aflatoxin B1 is both the most commonly oc­curring and produced in the largest amounts. It also possesses the strongest toxic and carcinogenic properties among the aflatoxins. The acute lethal dose in humans is estimated to be 1–10mg/kg. Chronic intake of aflatoxin B1 can lead to immunodeficiency and can also be genotoxic. In several animal studies, it has been clearly demonstrated that aflatoxin B1 has carcinogenic properties and can thus be considered among the strongest carcinogenic compounds. [2]

Due to its dangerous effects, the mycotoxin content should fundamentally be kept as low as reasonably achievable with the available technology for pro­duction and processing (ALARA principle). Worldwide, however, many countries have also set maximum levels in order to reduce the occurrence of aflatoxins in food. In the European Union, the maximum level is stipulated in the Regulation (EC) No 1881/2016. [3] Additionally, the Directive 2002/32/EC sets the maxi­mum level for aflatoxin B1 in animal feed. [4] According to these regulations, foodstuff and feed that exceed these maximum levels may not be brought onto the market in the EU. The process of taking samples as well as analytical me­thods are subject to legal requirements in official inspections. The Regulation (EC) No 401/2006 states how these must be conducted so that the responsible agencies throughout the EU can be confident that in the case of aflatoxins, the sampling and analysis are being conducted in a uniform way. [5]

The analysis of aflatoxins has been an established part of the GBA Laboratory Group’s portfolio of analytical methods for many years. If you have any ques­tions about this or any other topic in the field of food or environmental analysis, then please get in touch with your individual account manager at the GBA Labo­ratory Group or:

GBA Gesellschaft für Bioanalytik mbH
Ms. Vera Montag
Tel: +49 (0)40 797172-0


[1], Accessed on 13.03.2017
[2], Accessed on 13.03.2017
[3], Accessed on 15.03.2017
[4], Accessed on 15.03.2017
[5], Accessed on 15.03.2017

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