Examining NTA performance and potential using fortified and reference house dust as part of EPA's Non-Targeted Analysis Collaborative Trial (ENTACT)
By Seth R Newton, Jon R Sobus, Elin M Ulrich, Randolph R Singh, Alex Chao, James McCord, Sarah Laughlin-Toth, and Mark Strynar
Anal Bioanal Chem
April 28, 2020
Non-targeted analysis (NTA) methods are being increasingly used to aid in the identification of unknown compounds in the environment, a problem that has challenged environmental chemists for decades. Despite its increased use, quality assurance practices for NTA have not been well established. Furthermore, capabilities and limitations of certain NTA methods have not been thoroughly evaluated. Standard reference material dust (SRM 2585) was used here to evaluate the ability of NTA to identify previously reported compounds, as well as a suite of 365 chemicals that were spiked at various stages of the analytical procedure. Analysis of the unaltered SRM 2585 extracts revealed that several previously reported compounds can be identified by NTA, and that correct identification was dependent on concentration. A manual inspection of unknown features in SRM 2585 revealed the presence of two chlorinated and fluorinated compounds in high abundance, likely precursors to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). A retrospective analysis of data from the American Healthy Homes Survey revealed that these compounds were present in 42% of sampled homes. Spiking the dust at various stages of sample preparation revealed losses from extraction, cleanup, and instrumental analysis; the log K for individual compounds influenced the overall recovery levels but no pattern could be discerned from the various degrees of interference that the matrix had on the ionization efficiency of the spiked chemicals. Analysis of the matrix-free chemical mixture at low, medium, and high concentrations led to more correct identifications than analysis at one, very high concentration. Varying the spiked amount and identifying reported compounds at known concentrations allowed an estimation of the lower limits of identification (LOIs) for NTA, analogous to limits of detection in targeted analysis. The LOIs were much lower than levels in dust that would be likely to cause bioactivity in humans, indicating that NTA is useful for identifying and monitoring compounds that may be of toxicological concern. Graphical abstract.