Mass defect filtering for suspect screening of halogenated environmental chemicals: A case study of chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants

Georgia Dolios, Dhavalkumar Patel, Manish Arora, Syam S. Andra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Rationale: Organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs) are a class of flame retardants widely found in environmental and biological matrices that have been extensively studied due to their adverse health effects in humans. OPFRs are loosely bound chemicals that can detach from treated products and be released into indoor and outdoor environments, where they have the potential to further undergo transformation and degradation processes, in particular the chlorinated OPFRs (Cl-PFRs). Their detection remains a moving target for analysts, and traditional targeted mass spectrometry methods are suitable only for those compounds with authentic standards. Methods: Mass defect filter (MDF) is a strategy to filter molecular features using thresholds applied to the mass defect value of a target ion or molecular feature of interest. We have developed an MDF strategy for the detection and tentative identification of twelve potential Cl-PFR transformation products in a study mixture of six known Cl-PFRs using MS/MS data acquired on a high-resolution mass spectrometer. Most compounds in the Cl-PFRs family share a ClO4P group as a core structure, of which modification results in a significant shift in the exact masses of the resulting compounds but show only a minimal shift in their mass defects. Subsequently, the MDF strategy was employed to tentatively identify Cl-PFRs retrospectively in six human urine samples that had previously been analyzed. Results: MDF in combination with product ion filtering for the characteristic [H2O3P]+ and [H4O4P]+ ions and neutral loss filtering for the characteristic CnH2n-xClx group resulted in revealing suspects and homologues in the Cl-PFRs family. Furthermore, the MDF of the product ions detected additional Cl-PFR-related compounds that differed significantly in the exact masses of both precursor and product ions but had minimal shift in the mass defects of product ions. The mass defect of one or more common product ions helped to detect a few Cl-PFR analogs that had not been identified by MDF of the core structure precursor ion. Conclusions: MDF helped to detect some Cl-PFRs present in lower concentrations, which went undetected without data filters. MDF also helped to detect chromatographic peaks for Cl-PFR homologues that are likely structural analogs that resulted from impurities and/or derivatives and transformation products. The methodology was applied to demonstrate and tentatively detect known and suspect Cl-PFRs in human urine samples retrospectively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-519
Number of pages17
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number5
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2019


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