Development of an Analytical Test Method for Detecting Trace Levels of
 Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, 01-9338

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Principal Investigator
Gang Sun

Inclusive Dates: 07/17/02 - Current

Background - Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are emerging as a novel group of global environmental contaminants. Preliminary toxicity investigations show that PBDEs may induce immunosuppression and chloracne, disrupt the endocrine system, affect learning and memory functions, and cause cancers. PBDEs also have a strong affinity for fat, and they build up in the bodies of both animals and humans from before birth until death. Swedish scientists reported that between 1972 and 1998 the levels of PBDEs in breast milk had increased 40 times. The United States, the world's largest PBDE consumer, has recently reported that North American mothers have breast-milk PBDE levels at least 40 times higher than the highest concentrations found in Swedish mothers. Based on this report, the U.S. government has initiated substantial research on the distribution of PBDEs contamination. Clients have recently inquired about SwRI's ability to analyze material for the presence of PBDEs. This need for testing and monitoring for PBDEs in various matrices is expected to expand greatly.

Approach - The goal of this research is to develop extremely sensitive and efficient PBDE analytical methods to meet the differing needs of potential clients. Researchers plan to investigate the use of low-resolution gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and high-resolution gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (HRGC/HRMS). To enhance analytical sensitivity, both GC/MS and HRGC/HRMS will be operated in selective ion monitoring mode. Three carbon-13 PBDE compounds will be used as internal standards during the GC/MS analysis. Among 209 possible types of PBDE congeners, 16 of the more common contaminating core PBDE formulations, representing each PBDE congener group, were selected for method development. The method will be established to evaluate water and soil matrices as well as other sample matrices when combined with proper sample extraction and cleanup procedures. The method detection limit, precision, and accuracy will be thoroughly investigated.

Accomplishments - Although the study is still in progress, the PBDE analysis by GC/MS and HRGC/HRMS is showing promising results on all 16 targeting PBDE congeners. To date, the method has a detection limit at range of parts-per-quadrillion (ppq) to parts-per-trillion (ppt) with satisfactory recovery.

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