Protocol to Investigate Volatile Aromatic Hydrocarbon Degradation with Purge and Trap Coupled to a Gas Chromatograph/Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer

  • Armin H. Meyer
  • Michael P. Maier
  • Martin ElsnerEmail author
Part of the Springer Protocols Handbooks book series (SPH)


Compound-specific isotope (CSIA) analysis is a well-established analytical tool in biogeochemistry, environmental science, and forensic research. Observable shifts in isotope ratios are used to distinguish different sources of the same chemical, to detect organic compound degradation, to estimate the extent of degradation, and to differentiate transformation pathways. To this end, CSIA determines the isotopic composition (e.g., 13C/12C) of single organic compounds within complex sample matrices as described here for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene (BTEX), and naphthalene. Such CSIA relies on gas chromatography-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-IRMS). Chromatographic separation is followed by online conversion of organic analytes to CO2 to facilitate the simultaneous analysis of 13CO2 and 12CO2 in dedicated Faraday cups of an isotope ratio mass spectrometer for precise isotope measurements. The following protocol provides the detailed description of CSIA of BTEX and naphthalene by GC-IRMS connected to a purge and trap autosampler device for the analysis of samples at trace concentrations (μg/L). Although this method is exemplified by Tekmar/Thermo Fisher Scientific devices, the principles of the approach hold for equipment from other manufacturers.


Aromatic hydrocarbons GC-IRMS Isotope fractionation Isotope ratio mass spectrometry Purge and trap 



This work was conducted in a Helmholtz Young Investigator Group supported by funding of the Helmholtz Initiative and Networking Fund, and the EU-funded project Kill Spill. We thank Aileen Melsbach for her fruitful comments in improving the protocol.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Armin H. Meyer
    • 1
  • Michael P. Maier
    • 1
  • Martin Elsner
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental HealthInstitute of Groundwater EcologyNeuherbergGermany

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