Are (fluorinated) ionic liquids relevant environmental contaminants? High-resolution mass spectrometric screening for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in environmental water samples led to the detection of a fluorinated ionic liquid
By Isabelle J Neuwald, Daniel Zahn, Thomas P Knepper
Analytical and Bio. Chem.
April 6, 2020
Fragmentation flagging (FF), a high-resolution mass spectrometric screening variant that utilizes intentionally produced indicative in-source fragments, was used to screen for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in surface waters. Besides expected legacy PFAS, FF enabled the detection of some rarely investigated representatives, such as trifluoromethanesulfonic acid (TFMSA). Additionally, a novel PFAS was detected and identified as tris(pentafluoroethyl)trifluorophosphate (FAP) via MS/MS experiments and confirmed with a reference standard. The first monitoring of FAP in 20 different surface waters revealed a localized contamination affecting three connected rivers with peak concentrations of up to 3.4 μg/L. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time FAP has been detected in environmental water samples. The detection of FAP, which is exclusively used as a constituent of ionic liquids (ILs), raises questions about the environmental relevance of ILs in general and particularly fluorinated ILs. A following comprehensive literature search revealed that ILs have already been intensely discussed as potential environmental contaminants, but findings reporting ILs in environmental (water) samples are almost non-existent. Furthermore, we address the relevance of ILs in the context of persistent, mobile, and toxic chemicals, which are at present gaining increasing scientific and regulatory interest, and as part of the PFAS "dark matter" that represents the gap between the amount of fluorine originating from known PFAS and the total adsorbable organically bound fluorine.