Development and comparison of methods using MS scan and selective ion monitoring modes for a wide range of airborne VOCs

Chunrong Jia, Stuart Batterman, Sergei Chernyak
Journal of Environmental Monitoring: JEM 2006, 8 (10): 1029-42
Adsorbent sampling with analysis by thermal desorption, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (TD/GC/MS) offers many advantages for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and thus is increasingly used in many applications. For environmental samples and other complex mixtures, the MS detector typically is operated in the scan mode to aid identification of co-eluting compounds. However, scan mode does not achieve the optimal sensitivity, thus compounds occurring at low concentrations may not be detected. This paper develops and evaluates the application of a more sensitive TD/GC/MS method using selective ion monitoring (SIM) that is applicable to VOC mixtures found in ambient and indoor air. Based on toxicity and prevalence, 94 VOCs (including terpenes, aromatic, halogenated and aliphatic compounds) were selected as target compounds. Two analytical methods were developed: a conventional full scan method for ions from 29 to 270 m/z; and a SIM method using 16 time windows and different ions selected for the compounds in each window. Both methods used the same Tenax GR adsorbent sampling tubes, TD and GC parameters, and target and qualifier ions. Laboratory tests determined calibrations, method detection limits (MDLs), precisions, recoveries and storage stability. Field tests compared scan and SIM mode analyses for duplicate samples of indoor air in 51 houses and outdoor air at 41 sites. Statistical analyses included the development of error/precision models. The laboratory tests showed that most compounds demonstrated excellent precision (<10% for concentrations exceeding approximately 0.5 microg m(-3)), good linearity, near identical calibrations for scan and SIM modes, a wide dynamic range (up to 1500 microg m(-3)), and negligible storage losses after 1 month (7 compounds showed moderate losses). SIM mode MDLs ranged from 0.004 to 0.27 microg m(-3), representing a modest (1.1 to 22-fold) improvement compared to scan mode. However, in field tests the SIM method detected significantly more compounds (e.g., styrene and chloroform). Error models fit most compounds and allow quantification of errors at selected percentiles. Overall, while the new SIM method is somewhat time-consuming to develop, it offers greater sensitivity and maintains the high selectivity of traditional scan methods.

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