Field-portable handheld LIBS analyzers have expanded potential applications for in situ elemental analysis. They allow for rapid screening and quantification of any element in almost any matrix type.
Since the 1940s, PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe and specifically used in fast-food packaging because their lipophobicity inhibits oils leaking through packaging layers. PFAS remain in the body and the environment because they don’t break down and can accumulate over time. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has determined “that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.” https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas
In April 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan called for a new “EPA Council on PFAS” hoping to “better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by these chemicals.” https://www.epa.gov/pfas/epa-actions-address-pfas
In the United States, long chain PFAS have been voluntarily discontinued in food packaging. Shorter chain PFAS and other fluorinated hydrocarbons continue to be used. However, individual states, as well as some countries, are considering limits on total organofluorine compounds used in food packaging.
Brendan Connors, SciAps senior scientist, has used the handheld LIBS to analyze the presence of fluorine as a marker for the potential presence of PFAS in popular food packaging, including burgers, chips and popcorn. Field-portable handheld LIBS analyzers have expanded potential applications for in situ elemental analysis. They allow for rapid screening and quantification of any element in almost any matrix type. The ability of handheld LIBS to test light elements such as fluorine make it particularly well suited to applications where other field-portable elemental analysis techniques such as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) are insensitive to the lightest elements.
Connors presented his findings at the SciX 2018 Conference. “I want people to understand where fluorinated compounds come from and how often we encounter them in everyday life,” Connors says. Since SciAps developed a handheld LIBS, and fluorine can be detected by LIBS, the timing was perfect. “There aren’t many test methods available for fluorine or fluorinated compounds, so I wanted to create a test method that might help us with rapid screening.”
In its conclusions, the ApNote states that further work could quantitatively calibrate a LIBS analyzer for F levels in packaging should elemental action levels be established; currently, lack of matrix-matched certified reference materials is a concern for any further quantitative work. Further work may also include correlating quantitative LIBS F concentrations with content of PFAS determined by other techniques like LC/MS.
A SciAps Z-300 handheld LIBS analyzer was used for measurements, now superseded by Z-901 Fluorine.
“There aren’t many test methods available for fluorine or fluorinated compounds, so I wanted to create a test method to help us with rapid screening.”
— Brendan Connors, SciAps senior scientist
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