Non-targeted GC/MS analysis of exhaled breath samples: Exploring human biomarkers of exogenous exposure and endogenous response from professional firefighting activity

Wallace M. A. G., Pleil J. D., Oliver K. D., Whitaker D. A., Menteşe S., Fent K. W., ...More

JOURNAL OF TOXICOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH-PART A-CURRENT ISSUES, vol.82, no.4, pp.244-260, 2019 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 82 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/15287394.2019.1587901
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.244-260
  • Keywords: Non-targeted analysis, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC, MS), automated thermal desorption (ATD), volatile organic compounds (VOC), breath research, firefighters, VOLATILE ORGANIC-COMPOUNDS, RETENTION TIME PREDICTION, MASS-SPECTROMETRY DATA, GAS-CHROMATOGRAPHY, EMERGING CONTAMINANTS, COMPOUNDS VOCS, SMOKE, TOXICITY, CANCER, MODELS
  • Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University Affiliated: Yes


A non-targeted analysis workflow was applied to analyze exhaled breath samples collected from firefighters pre- and post-structural fire suppression. Breath samples from firefighters functioning in attack and search positions were examined for target and non-target compounds in automated thermal desorption-GC/MS (ATD-GC/MS) selected ion monitoring (SIM)/scan mode and reviewed for prominent chemicals. Targeted chemicals included products of combustion such as benzene, toluene, xylenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that serve as a standard assessment of exposure. Sixty unique chemical features representative of exogenous chemicals and endogenous compounds, including single-ring aromatics, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile sulfur-containing compounds, aldehydes, alkanes, and alkenes were identified using the non-targeted analysis workflow. Fifty-seven out of 60 non-targeted features changed by at least 50% from pre- to post-fire suppression activity in at least one subject, and 7 non-targeted features were found to exhibit significantly increased or decreased concentrations for all subjects as a group. This study is important for (1) alerting the firefighter community to potential new exposures, (2) expanding the current targeted list of toxicants, and (3) finding biomarkers of response to firefighting activity as reflected by changes in endogenous compounds. Data demonstrate that there are non-targeted compounds in firefighters' breath that are indicative of environmental exposure despite the use of protective gear, and this information may be further utilized to improve the effectiveness of personal protective equipment.