Issue 12, 2016

Development of a gas phase source for perfluoroalkyl acids to examine atmospheric sampling methods


An inability to produce environmentally relevant gaseous mixing ratios of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), ubiquitous global contaminants, limits the analytical reliability of atmospheric chemists to make accurate gas and particulate measurements that are demonstrably free of interferences due to sampling artefacts. A gas phase source for PFAAs based on the acid displacement mechanism using perfluoropropionate (PFPrA), perfluorobutanoate (PFBA), perfluorohexanoate (PFHxA), and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) has been constructed. The displacement efficiency of gas phase perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCAs) is inversely related to chain length. Decreasing displacement efficiencies for PFPrA, PFBA, PFHxA, and PFOA were 90% ± 20%, 40% ± 10%, 40% ± 10%, 9% ± 4%, respectively. Generating detectable amounts of gas phase perfluorosulfonic acids (PFSAs) was not possible. It is likely that lower vapour pressure and much higher acidity play a role in this lack of emission. PFCA emission rates were not elevated by increasing relative humidity (25%–75%), nor flow rate of carrier gas from 33–111 sccm. Overall, reproducible gaseous production of PFCAs was within the error of the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) as a displacing acid (±20%) and was accomplished using a dry nitrogen flow of 33 ± 2 sccm. A reproducible mass emission rate of 0.97 ± 0.10 ng min−1 (n = 8) was observed for PFBA. This is equivalent to an atmospheric mixing ratio of 12 ppmv, which is easily diluted to environmentally relevant mixing ratios of PFBA. Conversely, generating gas phase perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) by sublimating the solid acid under the same conditions produced a mass emission rate of 2800 ng min−1, which is equivalent to a mixing ratio of 18 ppthv and over a million times higher than suspected atmospheric levels. Thus, for analytical certification of atmospheric sampling methods, generating gas phase standards for PFCAs is best accomplished using acid displacement under dry conditions. This yields quickly stabilized, reproducible emissions and mixing ratios that are easily diluted to environmentally relevant levels. Gas phase PFBA from this source has also been shown to be quantitatively collected using an annular denuder coated with sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) method Compendium I.O-4.2. Overall, producing gas phase PFAAs at constant atmospherically-relevant levels will enable the development of standard approaches in certifying gas and particle collection efficiencies for instruments interrogating the gas-particle partitioning and long-range transport of PFCAs in the atmosphere.

Graphical abstract: Development of a gas phase source for perfluoroalkyl acids to examine atmospheric sampling methods

Article information

Article type
08 Feb 2016
11 Apr 2016
First published
11 Apr 2016
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Analyst, 2016,141, 3765-3775

Development of a gas phase source for perfluoroalkyl acids to examine atmospheric sampling methods

J. J. MacInnis, T. C. VandenBoer and C. J. Young, Analyst, 2016, 141, 3765 DOI: 10.1039/C6AN00313C

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