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RATIONALE

When performing trace gas analysis, it is not always possible to bring the source of volatiles and the gas analyzer together. In these cases, volatile storage containers, such as thermal desorption (TD) tubes, can be used for off-line measurement. TD is routinely combined with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), but so far not with proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTRMS), which has a faster response.

METHODS

A PTR-quadrupole-MS instrument and a PTR-ion-trap-MS instrument were separately coupled to a TD unit for off-line analysis of trace volatiles in air. Carbograph 1TD/Carbopack X sorbent tubes were filled with different concentrations of a trace gas mixture containing low molecular weight volatiles (32 g/mol up to 136 g/mol) and measured with the above-mentioned combinations. The carrier gas in the TD unit was changed from helium to nitrogen to be able to combine this instrument with the mass spectrometer.

RESULTS

Good linearity and reproducibility with the amount of gas stored were obtained. The storage capacity over time (up to 14 days) showed larger variability (<11% for all compounds, except for acetone 27%). Several tubes were filled with breath of different persons, and the breath of a smoker showed increased levels of acetonitrile and benzene. The combination of the PTR ion-trap instrument with the TD unit was also investigated. Due to its higher sampling rate, the ion-trap system showed higher throughput capabilities than the quadrupole system.

CONCLUSIONS

The combination of TD with PTRMS using both a quadrupole and an ion trap for off-line volatile analysis has been validated. TD tubes can be a robust and compact volatile storage method when the mass spectrometry and the sampling cannot be performed in the same place, for example in large screening studies. In addition, a higher measurement throughput than with GC/MS could be obtained. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.