Compound-specific stable isotope analysis of organic contaminants in natural environments: a critical review of the state of the art, prospects, and future challenges
Compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) using gas chromatography-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC/IRMS) has developed into a mature analytical method in many application areas over the last decade. This is in particular true for carbon isotope analysis, whereas measurements of the other elements amenable to CSIA (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen) are much less routine. In environmental sciences, successful applications to date include (i) the allocation of contaminant sources on a local, regional, and global scale, (ii) the identification and quantification of (bio)transformation reactions on scales ranging from batch experiments to contaminated field sites, and (iii) the characterization of elementary reaction mechanisms that govern product formation. These three application areas are discussed in detail. The investigated spectrum of compounds comprises mainly n-alkanes, monoaromatics such as benzene and toluene, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and chlorinated hydrocarbons such as tetrachloromethane, trichloroethylene, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Future research directions are primarily set by the state of the art in analytical instrumentation and method development. Approaches to utilize HPLC separation in CSIA, the enhancement of sensitivity of CSIA to allow field investigations in the mug L-1 range, and the development of methods for CSIA of other elements are reviewed. Furthermore, an alternative scheme to evaluate isotope data is outlined that would enable estimates of position-specific kinetic isotope effects and, thus, allow one to extract mechanistic chemical and biochemical information.
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