Targeted quantification and untargeted screening of alkylphenols, bisphenol A and phthalates in aquatic matrices using ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to hybrid Q-Orbitrap mass spectrometry.
Ghent University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety, Laboratory of Chemical Analysis, Merelbeke, Belgium; Queen's University, School of Biological Sciences, Molecular Biosciences, Institute for Global Food Security, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. Electronic address: [Email]
Plasticizers and other plastics additives have been extensively used as ingredients of plastics and are as a result thereof easily released in the aquatic environment, due to different physical diffusion processes. In this context, a dedicated method was developed for the simultaneous quantification of 27 known and a virtually unlimited number of unknown alkylphenols, Bisphenol A and phthalates in 2 aquatic matrices, i.e. sea- and freshwater. To this extent, a novel instrumental HESI-UHPLC-HRMS (heated electro-spray ionization ultra-high performance liquid chromatographic high resolution mass spectrometric) method was devised for the simultaneous analysis of 7 phenols (i.e. 6 alkylphenols and Bisphenol A) and 20 phthalates within 10 min. Thereafter, a solid-phase extraction protocol was statistically (95% confidence interval, p > 0.05) optimized based on experimental designs. The method was proven fit-for-purpose through a successful validation at environmentally relevant nanomolar concentrations. Analytical precautions were taken for minimizing false-positive results to suppress in-house contamination. The method demonstrated an excellent analytical performance across all known plasticizers and plastics additives for sea- and freshwater, revealing good linearity (R2 > 0.99, n = 39), stable recoveries (98.5-105.8%), satisfactory repeatability (RSD < 8%, n = 54) and reproducibility (RSD < 10%, n = 36). Subsequently, a novel analytical strategy was devised for the tentative identification of unknown plasticizers and plastics additives using specific in-house determined fragments incorporated in a Python code. The applicability of the analytical platform was demonstrated by measuring 24 seawater samples. Interestingly, 16 out of 27 known plasticizers, plastics additives and primary metabolites could be quantified while the untargeted analysis uncovered 1042 compounds, whereof 5% (n = 46) could be assigned a plasticizer-plastics additive chemical identity, providing evidence for the severe plastic contamination status of our marine environment.