Environmental scientists: Why the SCIEX X500R QTOF system is perfect for PFAS research

Feb 13, 2020 | Blogs, Environmental / Industrial | 0 comments

The world of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) research is a big one and one that’s currently front and center in environmental contamination concerns. Whether you work in industrial or academic environmental research, the issues surrounding these high-profile chemicals are of huge concern. How can your research, your lab group and your next grant proposal bring new knowledge to the state of the science?

Here, we look at some of the reasons why high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry (HRMS/MS) using the X500R QTOF System is ideal for labs at the cutting edge of PFAS research.

Are you a regulated testing lab? Find out why our nominal mass spectrometry solutions are best suited to your routine PFAS screening needs:

What analytical technology is best suited to the needs of a PFAS research lab?
Over the years, interest has increased from just PFOS and PFOA to a small suite of perfluorinated carboxylates and sulfonates. Today, the scope of PFAS encompasses a far greater number of compounds, including so-called Gen-X chemicals, manufacturing byproducts, chemical precursors, potential degradation products, and more. Analysis of these emerging chemicals in a variety of environmental or even biological samples is vital for contribution to current research. Whether your challenge is characterizing their structures, determining their toxicity, evaluating their environmental fate, or understanding the impact of exposure, the need to detect, identify, and quantify PFAS is pivotal.

Expanding analytical capabilities to include HRMS/MS makes non-targeted screening methods for rapid PFAS detection and identification not only accessible but streamlined and achievable. The hybrid technology of quadruple time-of-flight (QTOF) system paired with liquid chromatography has been successfully employed in the discovery and research of environmental contaminants for decades.

The need for additional analytical functionality in leading environmental research labs is always evolving. Solutions capable of rapidly characterizing hundreds of unknown or suspect PFAS in a single run, even at trace levels, are no longer a fantasy. One comprehensive solution is the X500R QTOF System.

What are HRMS, QTOF, and LC?
A few definitions:

  • High-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) provides the capability of measuring the mass of both precursor and product ions to four or five decimal places—giving a high accuracy mass measurement. From this, you can propose an elemental formula, which allows target molecules to be confidently identified and suspect molecules to be narrowed down.
  • Hybrid quadrupole time-of-flight (QTOF) mass spectrometers have been commercially available since the mid-1990s and combine the power of a quadrupole mass analyzer with that of a high resolution TOF analyzer. This pairing provides the capability of accurate precursor mass selection with the ability to get extensive fragmentation using the power of high resolution TOF detection. QTOF systems provide results with high mass accuracy, speed and sensitivity, with accurate mass MS/MS information for chemical structure elucidation.
  • LC is an analytical chromatography technique used to separate ions or molecules dissolved in a solvent.

Why is HRMS so powerful for researching PFAS?
If you’re a PFAS researcher, you’d agree that PFAS research is complex. When identifying novel PFAS and metabolites in environmental samples, you are probably facing:

  • Hundreds of PFAS that are diverse—recent work using high-resolution mass spectrometry has shown that there might be hundreds of new poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) associated with aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs)
  • Extensive sample preparation protocols, including a variety of ecological or biological matrices. Need for sensitivity to detect environmentally relevant concentrations
  • Limits in the number of compounds and classes targeted per analysis
  • Time-intensive data processing, requiring in-depth handling to get to the unique and enlightening results for final publication

HRMS technology gives researchers the power to address these issues. By applying the advanced features and software workflows, researchers have access to screening, selectivity, and data processing capabilities to meet the modern needs of PFAS testing.

The X500R QTOF System solution: delivering the benefits to aid your PFAS screening
When you bring together the X500R QTOF System and an extensive PFAS MS/MS spectral library, great things happen. Here’s why:

  • The X500R QTOF mass spectrometer has a wide linear dynamic range offering excellent quantification for screening. It is an ideal tool for the full range of potential compounds in the PFAS family.
  • Only SCIEX instruments are built with the renowned Turbo V™ Ion Source. It offers enhanced sensitivity in negative ion mode to detect and quantify low concentration analytes in challenging matrices. It’s great for PFAS.
  • Reduce the risk of missing a critical component, while skipping out on laborious sample preparation. With SWATH® Acquisition, a data-independent acquisition (DIA) technique, you will have comprehensive detection and quantification of all potential compounds of interest in a sample (MS/MSALL).
  • Combine this with the verified Fluorochemical High-Resolution MS/MS Spectral Libraryand you have a comprehensive PFAS non-targeted solution. This verified library contains over 600 high-resolution MS/MS spectra for over 250 PFAS, for greater confidence in making identifications.
  • SCIEX OS Software offers intuitive but sophisticated workflow and data processing capabilities to deliver a total solution on one platform
  • Finally, you might be interested to know that the X500R QTOF System packs all this power into a small footprint, making it easy to integrate into your lab.

Together, these features result in a platform with the speed and mass accuracy required for high-throughput, non-targeted PFAS characterization.

Are you a regulated testing lab? Find out why high-resolution mass spectrometry is a good system to have in your routine PFAS screening toolbox.

Access the X500R PFAS content pack which includes a webinar by Professor Christopher Higgins from the Colorado School of Mines.Download Your Content Pack >


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Ashley Sage is the Senior Manager for Global Portfolio and Technology Strategic Marketing at SCIEX. He is responsible for looking after the strategic marketing campaigns for the product and technology portfolio. Most recently, Ashley was involved in the Generation Quant video creation and campaign. In his free time, Ashley enjoys golfing and spending time with his family.


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