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LC- and GC-QTOF-MS as Complementary Tools for a Comprehensive Micropollutant Analysis in Aquatic Systems


Efficient strategies are required to implement comprehensive suspect screening methods using high-resolution mass spectrometry within environmental monitoring campaigns. In this study, both liquid and gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-QTOF-MS and GC-QTOF-MS) were used to screen for >5000 target and suspect compounds in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in Northern California. LC-QTOF-MS data were acquired in All-Ions fragmentation mode in both positive and negative electrospray ionization (ESI). LC suspects were identified using two accurate mass LC-QTOF-MS/MS libraries containing pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other environmental contaminants and a custom exact mass database with predicted transformation products (TPs). The additional fragment information from the All-Ions acquisition improved the confirmation of the compound identity, with a low false positive rate (9%). Overall, 25 targets, 73 suspects, and 5 TPs were detected. GC-QTOF-MS extracts were run in negative chemical ionization (NCI) for 21 targets (mainly pyrethroids) at sub-ng/L levels. For suspect screening, extracts were rerun in electron ionization (EI) mode with a retention time locked method using a GC-QTOF-MS pesticide library (containing exact mass fragments and retention times). Sixteen targets and 42 suspects were detected, of which 12 and 17, respectively, were not identified by LC-ESI-QTOF-MS. The results highlight the importance of analyzing water samples using multiple separation techniques and in multiple ionization modes to obtain a comprehensive chemical contaminant profile. The investigated river delta experiences significant pesticide inputs, leading to environmentally critical concentrations during rain events.

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