Isomers/enantiomers of perfluorocarboxylic acids: Method development and detection in environmental samples.

PMID 26519804


Perfluoroalkyl substances are globally distributed in both urban and remote settings, and routinely are detected in wildlife, humans, and the environment. One of the most prominent and routinely detected perfluoroalkyl substances is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been shown to be toxic to both humans and animals. PFOA exists as both linear and branched isomers; some of the branched isomers are chiral. A novel GC-NCI-MS method was developed to allow for isomer/enantiomer separation, which was achieved using two columns working in tandem; a 30-m DB-5MS column and a 30-m BGB-172 Analytik column. Samples were derivatized with diazomethane to form methyl esters of the PFOA isomers. In standards, at least eight PFOA isomers were detected, of which at least four were enantiomers of chiral isomers; one chiral isomer (P3) was sufficiently separated to allow for enantiomer-fraction calculations. Soil, sediment and plant samples from contaminated locations in Alabama and Georgia were analyzed. P3 was observed in most of these environmental samples, and was non-racemic in at least one sediment, suggesting the possibility of chirally selective generation from precursors or enantioselective sorption. In addition, the ratio of P3/linear PFOA was inversely related to distance from source, which we suggest might reflect a higher sorption affinity for the P3 over the linear isomer. This method focuses on PFOA, but preliminary results suggest that it should be broadly applicable to other chiral and achiral perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs); e.g., we detected several other homologous PFCA isomers in our PFCA standards and some environmental samples.