Improvements in identification and quantitation of alkylated PAHs and forensic ratio sourcing

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2021 Mar;413(6):1651-1664. doi: 10.1007/s00216-020-03127-0. Epub 2021 Jan 28.


Parent and alkylated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present in a number of different sources in varying proportions depending on the source material and weathering. This range of PAH sources can make it difficult to determine the origin of exposure(s). Ratios of alkylated and parent PAHs have been applied as a forensic tool to distinguish between different sources. However, few studies have examined PAH ratios comprehensively as indicators for sourcing beyond a single study area or matrix type. In this paper, we introduce an expanded analytical method based on ASTM D7363-13a which we adapted for a gas chromatography triple quadrupole mass spectrometry instrument. The modifications increase selectivity and sensitivity compared to the ASTM method. We added five alkylated series to the method. This method has then been applied to 22 independent forensic ratios. We evaluated the method and the forensic ratios with certified reference materials and known environmental samples. This analytical method and thirteen PAH ratios were found to accurately predict sources of PAHs.

Keywords: Alkylated PAHs; Forensic ratios; Forensic sourcing; Gas chromatography; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; Triple quadrupole mass spectrometry.