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Determination of heat purgeable and ambient purgeable volatile organic compounds in water by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry

September 8, 2016

Two new analytical methods have been developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL) that allow the determination of 37 heat purgeable volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (USGS Method O-4437-16 [NWQL Laboratory Schedule (LS) 4437]) and 49 ambient purgeable VOCs (USGS Method O-4436-16 [NWQL LS 4436]) in unfiltered water. This report documents the procedures and initial performance of both methods. The compounds chosen for inclusion in the methods were determined as having high priority by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Both methods use a purge-and-trap technique with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The compounds are extracted from the sample by bubbling helium through a 25-milliliter sample. For the polar and less volatile compounds, the sample is heated at 60 degrees Celsius, whereas the less polar and more volatile compounds are purged using a separate analytical procedure at ambient temperature. The compounds are trapped on a sorbent trap, desorbed into a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer for separation, and then identified and quantified. Sample preservation is recommended for both methods by adding a 1:1 solution of hydrochloric acid (HCl [1:1]) to water samples to adjust the pH to 2. Analysis within 14 days from sampling is recommended.

The heat purgeable method (USGS Method O-4437-16) operates with the mass spectrometer in the simultaneous full scan/selected ion monitoring mode. This method supersedes USGS Method O-4024-03 (NWQL LS 4024). Method detection limits (MDLs) for fumigant compounds 1,2-dibromoethane, 1,2-dichloropropane, 1,2,3-trichloropropane, chloropicrin, and 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane range from 0.002 to 0.010 microgram per liter (µg/L). The MDLs for all remaining heat purgeable VOCs range from 0.006 µg/L for tert-butyl methyl ether to 3 µg/L for alpha-terpineol. Calculated holding times indicate that 36 of the 37 heat purgeable VOCs are stable for a minimum of 14 days preserved with HCl (1:1) to pH 2, and many are stable longer. Acrolein was retained in the method validation and initial method implementation and subsequently deleted because of instability and inconsistent performance. 2-Chloromethyl oxirane, methyl oxirane, and oxirane were tested using this method, but the compounds degraded quickly with the HCl (1:1) used for microbial preservation.

The ambient purgeable method, USGS Method O-4436-16, operates with the mass spectrometer in the full scan mode. This method is a modification of USGS Method O-4127-96 (NWQL LS 2020). Several compounds were retained from Method O-4127-96 and will continue to be determined in Method O-4436-16. Eleven high priority compounds were added. MDLs for the high priority compounds range from 0.007 µg/L for 2,2-dichloro-1,1,1-trifluoroethane to 0.04 µg/L for 1,2,3,4-tetrahydronaphthalene and 1,3-butadiene. Historical MDLs for the compounds retained from Method O-4127-96 range from 0.009 µg/L for trans-1,2-dichloroethene to 0.1 µg/L for bromomethane. The calculated holding times for the compounds indicate the majority of the compounds are stable for a minimum of 14 days, or longer, at pH 2 with HCl (1:1) preservation. Four semivolatile compounds, 1,2-dimethylnaphthalene, 1,6-dimethylnaphthalene, 2,6-di-tert-butyl phenol, and 2-chloronapthalene, were tested and deleted from the method due to poor performance. Benzyl chloride was tested and deleted due to instability.