Stepwise identification of chemicals migrating from plastic baby bottles

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  • Published: Sep 15, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Gas Chromatography / HPLC / Base Peak

A novel mass spectrometric scheme has been devised to test for unknown compounds that work their way from plastic baby bottles into the milk inside.

Despite the millions of plastic baby feeding bottles in use around the world, little has been done to test whether any chemicals migrate from the bottles into the food since bisphenol A was banned and polycarbonate bottles went into decline. This harmful chemical can induce a range of disorders in humans, especially problems with the reproductive system and genotoxicity.

Their replacements are bottles manufactured from polypropylene and polyamide but European scientists reckon that the potential migrating chemicals have not been adequately examined. It is possible that there might be others with harmful health effects, especially to babies.

Writing in Journal of Mass Spectrometry, they devised a stepwise scheme that could also be applied to other food containers. It is particularly useful because it does not rely on prior knowledge of any chemicals and was illustrated with six case studies using commercial baby feeding bottles. A solution of ethanol in water was used as a food simulant.

The first step was GC/MS, which uses an electron ionisation library to match the mass spectra. If peaks remained unidentified, GC/MS was repeated but this time on a high-resolution mass spectrometer which yielded accurate values of the fragment ions to search against other databases to derive the elemental compositions. Finally, GC/MS on a quadrupole-time-of-flight mass spectrometer with soft ionisation was used to determine the molecular ion.

Of course, not all potentially migrating compounds are volatile or suitable to GC/MS so an LC/MS step with a quadrupole-TOF was used when necessary. The findings were used to construct a database of migrating compounds and additives used in the manufacture of the plastics.

This scheme helped to identify a number of migrants, including dicyclopentyldimethoxysilane, bis(3,4-dimethylbenzylidene)sorbitol (Millad 3988) and Irganox 1010. Other compounds were partially identified, such as a laurolactam dimer and esters of hexadecanoic acid and octadecenoic acid.

Despite the relative success of their process, the researchers reinforced the point that it "requires experience and creative insight of the analyst, which still makes it a challenging and quite tedious labour."

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