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The abriviation "PFAS" under a magnifying glass

New, End-to-End PFAS Testing Workflow from Agilent

The new workflow ensures that analyses are completed quickly with limited to no sample contamination

Ian Black, MSComm, MSc

Ian Black is the assistant editor for LabX. Before joining the team, he obtained a masters in science communication from Laurentian University and an MSc in biology from Brock University....

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The presence of a group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment has become a growing concern in recent years. This is because PFAS can be found in many products, but they do not break down over time and can slowly contaminate soil and water. Researchers have recently discovered PFAS in numerous ecosystems and even in many types of animals. Because these chemicals can remain in the environment indefinitely, measuring and managing their spread is of great importance. With that in mind, Agilent Technologies has developed a new, end-to-end PFAS testing workflow.

Testing for PFAS

Since PFAS can have adverse effects in quantities as low as the part-per-trillion level, it is important to have consistent, reliable measurements of PFAS in samples. By building an efficient workflow that is well characterized from sample collection to data reporting, Agilent has introduced a dependable methodology for measuring PFAS in water, soil, foods, and consumer products.

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“It starts with collecting the sample. At this stage, it is vitally important to ensure that contaminants are not being added into the sample by providing proper sample containers and standardized collection techniques,” says Tarun Anumol, PhD, director, global environment market, Agilent. “Once the sample has been collected, it typically requires sample preparation or sample extraction to draw out the PFAS from the media. Whether the sample is water or food, it needs to be cleaned and concentrated before being placed into the detection instrument for analysis. Agilent has developed a complete end-to-end workflow incorporating the required tools for sample preparation and extraction for water, soil, blood, consumer products, and other matrices.”

When extracting a sample from water, Agilent provides solid-phase extraction cartridges that have undergone extensive quality control to prevent any contamination. “For example, in the case of lab consumables such as vials and caps, where PFAS can stick to glass, Agilent provides polypropylene vials and caps,” says Anumol.

Alternatively, researchers can perform the extraction for food samples using Agilent’s enhanced matrix removal products (EMR). These products remove the PFAS from the food and other biological interferants, meaning the analysis will not be contaminated. “These samples are ultimately placed into an Agilent LC triple quadrupole instrument for targeted PFAS analysis,” continues Anumol. “Agilent has also developed databases of over 100 PFAS compounds that can be analyzed on an LC triple quadrupole system.”

Once the separation and analysis are complete, the Agilent Smart Laboratory Information Management System (SLIMS) software can help researchers with data management. SLIMS will characterize and note all requirements for the entire workflow. 

Challenges of PFAS analysis

Because PFAS is so common in our society, it is very easy for labs, lab tools, clothing, and other common materials to contaminate a sample with “background” PFAS. Additionally, as concerns around the spread of PFAS grow, demand for more efficient and reliable analysis methods are also growing. According to Anumol, by providing a verified, complete, end-to-end workflow, customers can acquire everything they need to begin assessing PFAS levels immediately and limit background PFAS contamination.

“While there has been a lot of emphasis on the water side of the testing, we're starting to see more requirements and demands for testing PFAS in consumer products, food, contact materials, and even clinical testing,” adds Anumol. “It is important to note that we are only at the tip of the iceberg regarding PFAS discovery, testing, and analysis. Scientists are investigating only approximately two to five percent of the total PFAS compounds created or used in manufacturing. We expect the list of PFAS compounds requiring investigation and analysis to increase.”

End-to-end workflows like this one are going to be highly valuable to researchers studying PFAS and its effects on the environment. As the number of PFAS compounds being studied increases, having efficient workflows with limited chances for contamination are increasingly important.