The University of Colorado's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering in Boulder announced the opening of the Center for Environmental Mass Spectrometry (CEMS), a laboratory focusing on the detection of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic contaminants in water and evaluating the effectiveness of methods for removing them. The topic of drugs in drinking water recently gained increased visibility when an Associated Press survey revealed that an assortment including antidepressants, antibiotics and birth control prescriptions were detected in the municipal drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas serving 41 million Americans. "We're looking at the problem from a number of angles. First, to help define this growing problem and to underscore the need for more testing and treatment at the municipal level. We also intend to work with people around the world to help find solutions such as evaluating various water-treatment options," said Karl Linden, PhD, the lead scientist on water treatment at CEMS. Agilent Technologies Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., is loaning a $270,000 time-of-flight (TOF) core liquid chromatograph/mass spectrometer (LC/MS) system to the lab at no charge, the university said. The instrument is sensitive down to the attomole (one quintillionth, or 10 to the negative 18 power of a mole) range, and offers better than two parts-per-million mass accuracy. "Pharmaceuticals are biologically active compounds designed specifically to affect the human body," said CEMS co-creator E. Michael Thurman, PhD. "Low concentrations of parts-per-billion or parts-per-trillion generally aren't considered dangerous over the short term, but no one knows about the long-term human and ecological effects."