Emerging Contaminants Summit

Spring 2020

StudentCompetitionmassSarah Mass 
Research Assistant
Colorado School of Mines


Sarah is a fourth year combined Bachelor's/Master's student in the Environmental Engineering Department at Colorado School of Mines. She conducts research on the detection and identification of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the environment under the direction of Dr. Chris Higgins. With a passion for humanitarian engineering, she is the outreach coordinator for the Colorado School of Mines student chapter of the American Water Works Association and a member of the Rocky Mountain Section Water for People Fundraising Committee. An avid outdoorswoman, she is a ski instructor in the winters and enjoys whitewater kayaking in the summers.



Development of HRMS Spectral Library for Detection and Identification of Novel PFASs in the Environment

The prevalence of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the environment, coupled with their recalcitrance and potential toxicity, necessitates development of forensic tools capable of identifying PFASs with speed and accuracy. Currently, the only federal regulations regarding apply only to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). However, there are potentially thousands of other PFASs present in environmental samples, many of which have not been extensively studied regarding their environmental fate and transport or toxicity. The detection and identificationof these compounds is crucial for understanding the full extent of PFAS contamination. Sciex currently has a commercially available high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) spectral library of 96 fluorochemicals, but many more compounds and precursors have been identified in Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFFs), AFFF-impacted environmental sites, and a variety of commercial and industrial products. In an attempt to catalogue these compounds, an extensive extracted ion chromatogram (XIC) list of approximately 1400 identified and theoretical PFASs was developed, with new compounds added to the list as they are discovered and reported in literature. Using the XIC list as a guide, fragmentation spectra for approximately 300 additional compounds, not found in the Sciex library, were acquired via LC-QTOF-MS and added to an internal library from AFFFs, neat standards, commercial products, and environmental samples. Past studies attempting to understand the fate, transport, and transformation of PFASs in the environment have been hindered by the detection of compounds for which no spectral standards exist. A more complete spectral library has applications in detection of exposure in animals and humans, as well as detection and delineation of environmental contamination, which will increase understanding of transportation, transformation, and fate of PFASs in the environment.



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