Identifying Unknown Fluorine-Containing Compounds in Environmental Samples Using 19F NMR and Spectral Database Matching
By Jeremy R. Gauthier and Scott Andrew Mabury
June 1, 2023
The ubiquity of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment is a continuing concern. While typical analytical methods for the analysis of PFAS include both targeted and non-targeted mass spectrometry, there remains a significant portion of fluorinated compounds that are not accounted for by these routine methods. It has been previously demonstrated that 19F NMR can be used to identify these compounds, helping to close the mass balance on total fluorine in the environment. 19F NMR offers an unbiased method of analysis that requires no anticipation of fluorine–carbon bonds or functional groups. However, there is resistance to further uptake of NMR spectroscopy as an analytical tool, owing to perceived difficulties in sensitivity and spectral overlap. In this study, we measure the 19F NMR spectrum of hundreds of fluorinated compounds and use this constructed database to determine the concentration of PFAS in an extracted sample of a known aqueous firefighting foam-contaminated site. The 19F NMR database has been included for use by other researchers, and we discuss the intricacies of 19F NMR as applied to environmental samples.