Identification and quantitation of sorbitol-based nuclear clarifying agents extracted from common laboratory and consumer plasticware made of polypropylene

Anal Chem. 2008 Jul 15;80(14):5532-41. doi: 10.1021/ac8005632. Epub 2008 Jun 6.


Reported here is the mass spectral identification of sorbitol-based nuclear clarifying agents (NCAs) and the quantitative description of their extractability from common laboratory and household plasticware made of polypropylene. NCAs are frequently added to polypropylene to improve optical clarity, increase performance properties, and aid in the manufacturing process of this plastic. NCA addition makes polypropylene plasticware more aesthetically pleasing to the user and makes the product competitive with other plastic formulations. We show here that several NCAs are readily extracted with either ethanol or water from plastic labware during typical laboratory procedures. Observed levels ranged from a nanogram to micrograms of NCA. NCAs were also detected in extracts from plastic food storage containers; levels ranged from 1 to 10 microg in two of the three brands tested. The electron ionization mass spectra for three sorbitol-based nuclear clarifying agents (1,3:2,4-bis-O-(benzylidene)sorbitol, 1,3:2,4-bis-O-(p-methylbenzylidene)sorbitol, 1,3:2,4-bis-O-(3,4-dimethylbenzylidene)sorbitol) are presented for the native and trimethylsilyl-derivatized compounds together with the collision-induced dissociation mass spectra; gas and liquid chromatographic data are also reported. These NCAs now join other well-known plasticizers such as phthalate esters and bisphenol A as common laboratory contaminants. While the potential toxicity of NCAs in mammalian systems is unknown, the current data provide scientists and consumers the opportunity to make more informed decisions regarding the use of polypropylene plastics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Molecular Structure
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Polypropylenes / analysis*
  • Sorbitol / analysis*
  • Sorbitol / chemistry
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization


  • Plastics
  • Polypropylenes
  • Sorbitol