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Suspect screening and quantification of trace organic explosives in wastewater using solid phase extraction and liquid chromatography-high resolution accurate mass spectrometry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Helena Rapp-Wright, Gillian McEneff, Bronagh Murphy, Sally Gamble, Ruth Morgan, Matthew Beardah, Leon Barron

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Early online date6 Jan 2017
Accepted/In press4 Jan 2017
E-pub ahead of print6 Jan 2017
Published5 May 2017


King's Authors


The first comprehensive assessment of 34 solid phase extraction sorbents is presented for organic explosive residues in wastewater prior to analysis with liquid chromatography-high resolution accurate mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS). A total of 18 explosives were selected including nitramines, nitrate esters, nitroaromatics and organic peroxides. Three polymeric divinylbenzene-based sorbents were found to be most suitable and one co-polymerised with n-vinyl pyrrolidone offered satisfactory recoveries for 14 compounds in fortified wastewater (77–124%). Limits of detection in matrix ranged from 0.026–23 μg L−1 with R2 ≥ 0.98 for most compounds. The method was applied to eight 24-h composite wastewater samples from a London wastewater works and one compound, 2,4-dinitrotoluene, was determined over five days between 332 and 468 g day−1 (225–303 ng L−1). To further exploit the suspect screening capability, 17 additional explosives, precursors and transformation products were screened in spiked wastewater samples. Of these, 14 were detected with recoveries from 62 to 92%, highlighting the broad applicability of the method. To our knowledge, this represents the first screen of explosives-related compounds in wastewater from a major European city. This method also allows post-analysis detection of new or emerging compounds using full-scan HRMS datasets to potentially identify and locate illegal manufacture of explosives via wastewater analysis.

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