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Despite mass spectrometry (MS) being proven powerful for the characterization of synthetic polymers, its potential for the analysis of single particle microplastics (MPs) is yet to be fully disclosed. To date, MPs are regarded as ubiquitous contaminants, but the limited availability of techniques that enable full characterizations of MPs results in a lack of systematic data regarding their occurrence. In this study, an atmospheric solid analysis probe (ASAP) coupled to a compact quadrupole MS is proposed for the chemical analysis of single particle microplastics, while maintaining full compatibility with complementary staining and image analysis approaches. A two-stage ASAP probe temperature program was optimized for the removal of additives and surface contaminants followed by the actual polymer characterization. The method showed specific mass spectra for a wide range of single particle MPs, including polyolefins, polyaromatics, polyacrylates, (bio)polyesters, polyamides, polycarbonates, and polyacrylonitriles. The single particle size detection limits for polystyrene MPs were found to be 30 and 5 μm in full scan and selected ion recording mode, respectively. Moreover, results are presented of a multimodal microplastic analysis approach in which filtered particles are first characterized by staining and fluorescence microscopy, followed by simple probe picking of individual particles for subsequent analysis by ASAP-MS. The method provides a full characterization of MP contamination, including particle number, particle size, particle shape, and chemical identity. The applicability of the developed multimodal method was successfully demonstrated by the analysis of MPs in bioplastic bottled water.
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