Molecular characterization of nonionic surfactant components of the Corexit® 9500 oil spill dispersant by high-resolution mass spectrometry.


<h4>Rationale</h4>Approximately 7 million liters of Corexit® dispersants were applied during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to facilitate the dispersion of crude oil. At the time of application, the exact chemical composition of Corexit® was relatively unknown. Characterization of Corexit® 9500 was performed using high-resolution mass spectrometry to further understand the complexity of the nonionic surfactant components of this mixture.<h4>Methods</h4>Corexit®9500 was analyzed by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) coupled to a high resolution Orbitrap Fusion Lumos mass spectrometer operated in positive electrospray ionization mode and a charged aerosol detector. Chromatographic conditions were optimized to efficiently separate isobaric and isomeric compounds. Polyethoxylated nonionic surfactants in Corexit® 9500 were identified using the following criteria: accurate mass (&lt;3 ppm), retention time, and homologue series; in addition, interpretation of high-resolution tandem mass spectra was used to annotate tentative component structures.<h4>Results</h4>More than 2000 polysorbate nonionic surfactants in 87 homologue series were detected. Polysorbate surfactants were characterized by the type of molecular basis group (sorbitan, isosorbide, or fatty acid), degree of esterification (n = 0-4), ester chain length (C6-C24), and ester saturation, in addition to polydispersion by ethoxylation. Isomeric compounds were differentiated by LC/HRMS/MS analysis with product ion assignment. Results from the charged aerosol detector showed that the diesters (23.9 ± 0.78%) were the most abundant component in Corexit® 9500 followed by dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS) (19.2 ± 1.5%), triesters (17.3 ± 1.5%), and monoesters (15.7 ± 2.3%).<h4>Conclusions</h4>Our analytical approach facilitated the characterization of polysorbate surfactants within Corexit® 9500 and allowed a systematic study to differentiate isomeric and isobaric compounds, when standards were not available. The characterized composition of Corexit® 9500 will facilitate future studies to determine the chemical and biological transformation kinetics and byproducts of Corexit® 9500 under environmental conditions.