SIFT-MS revolutionizes formaldehyde analysis by applying very soft chemical ionization. SIFT-MS eliminates chromatography and directly analyses formaldehyde in the air to sub-part-per-billion concentrations (ppbv; by volume) within seconds from only a few milliliters of air. This yields a very high sample throughput in the laboratory and enables continuous monitoring — with a time resolution of a few seconds — in process applications.
Formaldehyde: A ubiquitous and hazardous compound
Formaldehyde is ranked 25th overall in United States chemical production. The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency provides a succinct description of its widespread use and anthropogenic sources:
Formaldehyde is present in a wide variety of products including some plywood adhesives, abrasive materials, insulation, insecticides and embalming fluids. The major sources of anthropogenic emissions of formaldehyde are motor vehicle exhaust, power plants, manufacturing plants that produce or use formaldehyde or substances that contain it (i.e. glues), petroleum refineries, coking operations, incinerating, wood burning and tobacco smoke. (United States EPA)
The toxicity, carcinogenicity, and ubiquity of formaldehyde necessitate detection at trace levels across diverse applications, including pharmaceutical testing, automotive emissions, and ambient and indoor air quality. Formaldehyde is, however, difficult to analyze to trace levels using gas chromatography (GC) and liquid chromatography (LC). GC and LC usually require sampling of large gas volumes to achieve low detection limits, followed by derivatization to enable analysis of this highly polar, reactive compound.
Widespread usage plus its formation as a byproduct of combustion and various industrial processes mean that formaldehyde significantly impacts air quality in workplaces, homes and the environment.
Much has been written on formaldehyde’s role in photochemical smog formation, and its carcinogenic properties, particularly since being categorized as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.1 The combined effects of these concerns and formaldehyde’s ubiquitous presence has focused attention on air quality in homes, workplaces and the environment.
By contrast, Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry – SIFT-MS analyzes directly from air or headspace using soft chemical ionization, down to sub-part-per-billion-by-volume (ppbv) concentrations within seconds. The graph below shows automated SIFT-MS analysis of two Tedlar bag samples containing formaldehyde and the five linear C2 – C6 saturated aldehydes within one minute. Using HPLC with UV detection, analysis of these samples would take about 25 minutes, and that does not include sampling onto DNPH tubes and subsequent solvent extraction.