To understand the ultimately lowest detection range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air, application of a high sensitivity analytical system was investigated by coupling thermal desorption (TD) technique with gas chromatography (GC) and time of flight (TOF) mass spectrometry (MS). The performance of the TD-GC-TOF MS system was evaluated using liquid standards of 19 target VOCs prepared in the range of 35 pg to 2.79 ng per μL. Studies were carried out using both total ion chromatograms (TIC) and extracted ion chromatograms (EIC) mode. EIC mode was used for calibration to reduce background and to improve signal to noise. The detectability of 19 target VOCs, if assessed in terms of method detection limit (MDL – per US EPA definition) and limit of detection (LOD), averaged 5.90 pg and 0.122 pg, respectively with the mean coefficient of correlation (R2) as 0.9975. The minimum quantifiable mass of target analytes, when determined using real air samples by the TD-GC-TOF MS, is highly comparable to the detection limits determined experimentally by standard. In fact, volumes for the actual detection of the major aromatic VOCs like benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX) in ambient air samples were as low as 1.0 mL in the 0.11 - 2.25 ppb range. It was thus possible to demonstrate that most target compounds including those in low abundance could be reliably quantified at concentrations down to 0.1 ppb at sample volumes of less than 10 mL. The unique sensitivity of this advanced analytical system can ultimately lead to a shift in field sampling strategy with smaller air sample volumes facilitating faster, simpler air sampling (e.g., use of gas syringes rather than the relative complexity of pumps or bags/canisters), with greatly reduced risk of analyte breakthrough and minimal interference, e.g. from atmospheric humidity. The improved detection limits offered by this system can also enhance accuracy and measurement precision.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/khkim/2/