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A sensitive gas chromatographic method using microcoulometric titration and electron-capture detection for the analysis of 2,4-D, silvex, 2,4,5-T, and other phenoxy acid herbicides in water is described. The herbicides are extracted from unfiltered water samples (800-1,000 ml) by use of ethyl ether ; then the herbicides are concentrated and esterilied. To allow the analyst a choice, two esterilication procedures--using either boron trifluoride-methanol or diazomethane--are evaluated.
Microcoulometric gas chromatography is specific for the detection of halogenated compounds such as the phenoxy acid herbicides whereas it does not respond to nonhalogenated components. Microcoulometric gas chromatography requires care and patience. It is not convenient for rapid screening of l-liter samples that contain less than 1 microgram of the herbicide. Although electroncapture gas chromatography is less selective and more critically affected by interfering substances, it is, nevertheless, convenient and more sensitive than microcoulometric gas chromatography.
Two different liquid phases are used in the gas chromatographic columns--DC-200 silicone in one column and QF-1 silicone in the other. The performance of both columns is improved by the addition of Carbowax 20M. The Gas Chrom Q support is coated with the liquid phases by the 'frontal-analysis' technique. The practical lower limits for measurement of the phenoxy acid herbicides in water primarily depend upon the sample size, interferences present, anal instrumentation used. With l-liter samples of water, the practical lower limits of measurement are 10 ppt (parts per trillion) for 2,4-D and 2 ppt for silvex and 2,4,5-T when electron-capture detection is used, and approximately 20 ppt for each herbicide when analyzed by microcoulometric-titration gas chromatography. Recoveries of the herbicides immediately after addition to unfiltered water samples averaged 92 percent for 2,4-D, 90 percent for silvex, and 98 percent for 2,4,5-T. Studies on the stability of herbicides added to water samples showed that 2,4-D may be rapidly degraded, especially if the samples are obtained from areas which have been repeatedly sprayed with 2,4-D. When degradation was observed, added 2,4-D rapidly decomposed within 10 days. At concentrations of about 200 ppt, however, the degradation rate was diminished. In 20 days the concentration of 2,4-D was reduced to 160-180 ppt.
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USGS Numbered Series
Determination of phenoxy acid herbicides in water by electron-capture and microcoulometric gas chromatography