EPA Method TO-17
Compendium Method TO-17 Determination of Volatile Organic Compounds in Ambient Air Using Active Sampling Onto Sorbent Tubes
1.1 This document describes a sorbent tube/thermal desorption/gas chromatographic-based monitoring method for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in ambient air at 0.5 to 25 parts per billion (ppbv) concentration levels. Performance criteria are provided as part of the method in Section 14. EPA has previously published Compendium Method TO-1 describing the use of the porous polymer Tenax™® GC for sampling nonpolar VOCs and Compendium Method TO-2 describing the use of carbon molecular sieve for highly volatile, nonpolar organics (1). Since these methods were developed, a new generation of thermal desorption systems as well as new types of solid adsorbents have become available commercially. These sorbents are used singly or in multisorbent packings. Tubes with more than one sorbent, packed in order of increasing sorbent strength are used to facilitate quantitative retention and desorption of VOCs over a wide volatility range. The higher molecular weight compounds are retained on the front, least retentive sorbent; the more volatile compounds are retained farther into the packing on a stronger adsorbent. The higher molecular weight compounds never encounter the stronger adsorbents, thereby improving the efficiency of the thermal desorption process.
1.2 A large amount of data on solid adsorbents is available through the efforts of the Health and Safety Laboratory, Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Sheffield, United Kingdon (UK). This group has provided written methods for use of solid adsorbent packings in monitoring workplace air. Some of their documents on the subject are referenced in Section 2.2. Also, a table of information on safe sampling volumes from their research is provided in Appendix 1.
1.3 EPA has developed data on the use of solid sorbents in multisorbent tubes for concentration of VOCs from the ambient air as part of its program for methods development of automated gas chromatographs. The experiments required to validate the use of these sorbent traps include capture and release efficiency studies for given sampling volumes. These studies establish the validity of using solid adsorbents for target sets of VOCs with minimal (at most one hour) storage time. Although questions related to handling, transport and storage of samples between the times of sampling and analysis are not addressed, these studies provide information on safe sampling volumes. Appendix 2 delineates the results of sampling a mixture of humidified zero air and the target VOCs specified in the Compendium Method TO-14 (2) using a specific multisorbent. 1.4 An EPA workshop was convened in November of 1995 to determine if a consensus could be reached on the use of solid sorbent tubes for ambient air analysis. The draft method available at the workshop has evolved through several reviews and modifications into the current document. The method is supported by data reported in the scientific literature as cited in the text, and by recent experimental tests performed as a consequence of the workshop (see Table 1).
1.5 The analytical approach using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC/MS) is identical to that mentioned in Compendium Method TO-15 and, as noted later, is adapted for this method once the sample has been thermally desorbed from the adsorption tube onto the focusing trap of the analytical system.
2. Summary of Method
2.1 The monitoring procedure involves pulling a volume of air through a sorbent packing to collect VOCs followed by a thermal desorption-capillary GC/MS analytical procedure.
2.2 Conventional detectors are considered alternatives for analysis subject to the performance criteria listed in Section 14 but are not covered specifically in this method text.
2.3 Key steps of this method are listed below.
2.3.1 Selection of a sorbent or sorbent mix tailored for a target compound list, data quality objectives and sampling environment. 2.3.2 Screening the sampling location for VOCs by taking single tube samples to allow estimates of the nature and amount of sample gases.
2.3.3 Initial sampling sequences with two tubes at nominally 1 and 4 liter total sample volumes (or appropriate proportional scaling of these volumes to fit the target list and monitoring objectives).
2.3.4 Analysis of the samples and comparison to performance criteria.
2.3.5 Acceptance or rejection of the data.
2.3.6 If rejection, then review of the experimental arrangement including repeat analysis or repeat analysis with backup tubes and/or other QC features. [Note: EPA requires the use of distributed volume pairs (see Section14.4) for monitoring to insure high quality data. However, in situations where acceptable data have been routinely obtained through use of distributed volume pairs and the ambient air is considered well characterized, cost considerations may warrant single tube sampling. Any attendant risk to data quality objectives is the responsibility of the project’s decision maker.]
2.4 Key steps in sample analysis are listed below.
2.4.1 Dry purge of the sorbent tube with dry, inert gas before analysis to remove water vapor and air. The sorbent tube can be held at temperatures above ambient for the dry purge.
2.4.2 Thermal desorption of the sorbent tube (primary desorption).
2.4.3 Analyte refocusing on a secondary trap.
2.4.4 Rapid desorption of the trap and injection/transfer of target analytes into the gas chromatograph (secondary desorption).
2.4.5 Separation of compounds by high resolution capillary gas chromatography (GC).
2.4.6 Measurement by mass spectrometry (MS) or conventional GC detectors (only the MS approach is explicitly referred to in Compendium Method TO-17; an FID/ECD detector combination or other GC detector can be used if Section 14 criteria are met. However, no explicit QA guidelines are given here for those alternatives).
2.5 The target compound list (TCL) is the same as listed in Compendium Method TO-15 (i.e., subsets of the 97 VOCs listed as hazardous pollutants in Title III of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990). Only a portion of these compounds has been monitored by the use of solid adsorbents. This method provides performance criteria to demonstrate acceptable performance of the method (or modifications of the method) for monitoring a given compound or set of compounds.
3.1 This method is an alternative to the canister-based sampling and analysis methods that are presented in Compendium Methods TO-14 and TO-15 and to the previous sorbent-based methods that were formalized as Compendium Methods TO-1 and TO-2. All of these methods are of the type that include sampling at one location, storage and transport of the sample, and analysis at another, typically more favorable site.
3.2 The collection of VOCs in ambient air samples by passage through
solid sorbent packings is generally recognized to have a number of
advantages for monitoring. These include the following:
• The small size and light weight of the sorbent packing and attendant equipment.
• The placement of the sorbent packing as the first element (with the possible exception of a filter or chemical scrubber for ozone) in the sampling train so as to reduce the possibility of contamination from upstream elements.
• The availability of a large selection of sorbents to match the target set of compounds including polar VOC.
• The commercial availability of thermal desorption systems to release the sample from the sorbent and into the analytical system.
• The possibility of water management using a combination of hydrophobic sorbents (to cause water breakthrough while sampling); dry gas purge of water from the sorbent after sampling; and splitting of the sample during analysis.
• The large amount of literature on the use of sorbent sampling and thermal desorption for monitoring of workplace air, particularly the literature from the Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom.
3.3 Accurate risk assessment of human and ecological exposure to
toxic VOCs is an important goal of the U. S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) with increased emphasis on their role as endocrine disrupters.
Accurate data is fundamental to reaching this goal. The portability
and small size of typical sampling packages for sorbent-based sampling
and the wide range of sorbent choices make this monitoring approach
appealing for special monitoring studies of human exposure to toxic
gases and to use in network monitoring to establish prevalence and
trends of toxic gases. Microenvironmental and human subject studies
are typical of applications
for Compendium Method TO-17.
3.4 Sorbent-based monitoring can be combined with canister-based monitoring methods, on-site autoGC systems, open path instrumentation, and other specialized point monitoring instruments to address most monitoring needs for volatile organic gases. More than one of these approaches can be used simultaneously as a means to check and insure the quality of the data being produced.
3.5 In the form specified in Compendium Method TO-17, sorbent sampling incorporates the distributed volume pair approach that provides inherently defensible data to counter questions of sample integrity, operator performance, equipment malfunction during sampling, and any other characteristic of sample collection that is not linear with sampling volume.
3.6 In keeping with the consensus of EPA scientists and science advisors, the method is performance-based such that performance criteria are provided. Any modification of the sorbent approach to monitoring for VOCs can be used provided these criteria are met.
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