Articles | Volume 8, issue 6
Research article
08 Jun 2015
Research article |  | 08 Jun 2015

Determination of atmospheric organosulfates using HILIC chromatography with MS detection

A. P. S. Hettiyadura, E. A. Stone, S. Kundu, Z. Baker, E. Geddes, K. Richards, and T. Humphry

Abstract. Measurements of organosulfates in ambient aerosols provide insight to the extent of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation from mixtures of biogenic gases and anthropogenic pollutants. Organosulfates have, however, proved analytically challenging to quantify, due to lack of authentic standards and the complex sample matrix in which organosulfates are observed. This study presents a sensitive and accurate new analytical method for the quantification of organosulfates based upon ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) with negative electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (MS) with the aid of synthesized organosulfate standards. The separation is based upon hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC) with an amide stationary phase that provides excellent retention of carboxy-organosulfates and isoprene-derived organosulfates. The method is validated using six model compounds: methyl sulfate, ethyl sulfate, benzyl sulfate, hydroxyacetone sulfate, lactic acid sulfate and glycolic acid sulfate. A straightforward protocol for synthesis of highly pure organosulfate potassium salts for use as quantification standards is presented. This method is used to evaluate the efficiency and precision of two methods of ambient PM2.5 sample extraction. Spike recoveries averaged 98 ± 8% for extraction by ultra-sonication and 98 ± 10% for extraction by rotary shaking. Ultra-sonication was determined to be a better method due to its higher precision compared to rotary shaking. Analysis of ambient PM2.5 samples collected on 10–11 July 2013 in Centreville, AL, USA during the Southeast Atmosphere Study (SAS) confirms the presence of hydroxyacetone sulfate in ambient aerosol for the first time. Lactic acid sulfate was the most abundant compound measured (9.6–19 ng m−3), followed by glycolic acid sulfate (8–14 ng m−3) and hydroxyacetone sulfate (2.7–5.8 ng m−3). Trace amounts of methyl sulfate were detected, while ethyl sulfate and benzyl sulfate were not. Application of this HILIC separation method to ambient aerosol samples further demonstrates its utility in resolving additional biogenic organosulfates.

Short summary
Organosulfates are SOA products that have proven difficult to quantify. This study addresses the need for authentic quantification standards with a straightforward approach to synthesizing highly pure organosulfate potassium salts. New standards are used to develop a new separation protocol for small, functionalized organosulfates. Upon validation, this method is used to assess sample preparation protocols and to make new measurements of organosulfates in Centreville, Alabama.