- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous contaminants and are mostly products of the incomplete combustion of organic material. PAHs are often found in environmental samples as a complex mixture of isomers. In addition, the same sources that produce complex PAH mixtures also produce other poorly characterized mixtures of organic compounds, commonly referred to as an unresolved complex mixture (UCM), that act as matrix interferences in the chromatographic analysis of samples.
Conventional one-dimensional chromatographic techniques, such as gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (GC/MS), are not sufficient for the analysis and quantitation of complex PAH mixtures present in environmental samples due to the high degree of overlap in compound vapor pressures, boiling points, and mass spectral fragmentation patterns. Therefore, the separation and quantitation of complex mixtures of individual PAH compounds in environmental samples requires high chromatographic resolution.
Comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC/ToF-MS) was used for this study. GC×GC/ToF-MS uses two different gas chromatographic columns, with different separation mechanisms, for the analysis of complex environmental samples. In theory, the peak capacity in GC×GC/ToF-MS is equivalent to the product of the individual peak capacities of each column used. However, in practice, this is rarely obtained because of the existing correlation between the two GC columns used. This dissertation is a compilation of three studies related to analytical method development for the identification and quantitation of complex PAH mixtures (including parent-PAHs, alkyl-PAHs, oxy-PAHs, nitro-PAHs, thio-PAHs, chloro-PAHs, bromo-PAHs and PAHs with molecular weight higher than 300 Da) that may be present in environmental samples using novel column combinations in GC×GC/ToF-MS.
The use of a liquid crystal column (LC-50) in the first dimension, followed by a nano-stationary phase column (NSP-35) in the second dimension, was evaluated for the separation of a standard PAH mixture containing 97 different PAHs. Two standard reference materials purchased from NIST (NIST SRM1650b – Diesel Particulate Matter and NIST SRM1975 – Diesel Extract) were used, after extraction and cleanup, for method validation and comparison between the commonly used non-polar × polar column combination and the LC-50 × NSP-35 column combination with high orthogonality. As part of the method validation, an aliquot of NIST SRM1975 (Diesel extract), without sample cleanup was also analyzed for PAHs, showing that the LC-50 × NSP-35 column combination was accurate (with an average absolute percent difference of approximately 30%) for the identification and quantitation of complex PAH mixtures in environmental samples, with reduced sample preparation prior to analysis. In addition, the LC-50 × NSP-35 column combination was used for the analysis of PAHs sorbed to polystyrene pellets deployed in an urban bay area as passive water samplers because one-dimensional GC/MS was ineffective due to the presence of a strong unresolved complex mixture (UCM) and matrix interferences.