Enviropass Logo

Detecting Flame Retardants, Phthalates, and Polyaromatic Amines with DART-MS

Direct Analysis in Real-Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS) revolutionizes chemical analysis by rapidly detecting flame retardants, phthalates, and polyaromatic amines without extensive sample preparation. In this blog post, we explore the technique’s advantages, delve into its process, and highlight its applications.

Oil testing laboratory

What is DART-MS?

Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS) is a technique used in analytical chemistry combining two methods: Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) and Mass Spectrometry (MS). It uses DART as the ionization source for mass spectrometry analysis. A stream of energetic ions strikes the sample, causing the molecules to become ionized. The mass spectrometer then separates these ions based on their mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) and detects them. This process allows for compound identification and quantification in the sample.

The DART-MS Process:

It involves the following steps:

1. Sample Introduction

First, introduce the sample into the DART ionization source, accommodating various forms such as solids, liquids, or gases.

2. Ionization in DART-MS

Then, ionize the sample by exposing it to the DART source.

Atom DART ionization

What is Ionization?

Ionization is the process of addsing or removesing electrons from an atom or neutral molecule, resulting in a net electric charge. Mass spectrometry (MS) analysis relies on the mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) for operation.

How Does Ionization Occur in DART-MS Analysis?

In this type of analysis, the DART source produces a high-temperature stream of plasma composed of ions and electrons. This plasma stream ionizes the molecules present in a sample in an ambient atmosphere without the need for prior separation or chromatographic techniques. Additionally, the molecules present within the samples can become ionized in many ways, such as:

  • Undergoing electron transfer or proton transfer
  • Desorption of sample components

3. Mass Spectrometry

Subsequently, ions generated in the DART ionization source are analyzed using mass spectrometry. Inside a mass spectrometer, the analyzer separates ions by their m/z. Common examples of analyzers used in MS include:

  • A quadrupole
  • Time-of-flight (TOF)
  • Magnetic Sensor
  • Ion trap
  • Orbitrap

4. Ion Detection with DART-MS

The detector receives the separated ions one after the other, generating an electrical signal proportional to their abundance.

5. Data Analysis

Moreover, the detector converts the electrical signal into digital data, forming a mass spectrum. This plot represents ion quantity (y-axis) versus m/z (x-axis), enabling the identification and quantification of target compounds present in the sample.

mass spectrum DART-MS

Compound Identification using DART-MS

The obtained spectra are compared to known databases or reference spectra to identify molecules within a sample.

Compound Quantification

Researchers can useThe ion abundance striking the detector can be used to estimate the concentration of molecules within a sample.

DART-MS Process

Advantages of DART-MS:

It offers several distinct advantages that have made it an invaluable tool in chemistry testing:

1. Increased Speed with DART-MS

Unlike traditional analytical methods that involve time-consuming sample preparation, DART-MS provides near-instantaneous analysis. This aspect enables quick on-site testing, benefiting enforcement authorities present in time-sensitive investigations, environmental compliance, and quality control measures.

2. Ambient Ionization

The instrument operates under ambient conditions eliminating the need for a vacuum or additional heating equipment. Samples can be analyzed in their natural environment in their native form, whether in a liquid, solid, or gaseous state.

3. Sensitivity and Accuracy of DART-MS

This instrument combines ionization principles and mass spectrometry to offer sensitive and accurate results. Indeed, it can detect trace amounts of target compounds, ensuring reliable identification and quantification.

4. Non-Destructive Analysis

DART-MS allows for non-destructive analysis of samples, preserving some for further experimentation. This advantage maximizes sample utility compared to other analytical techniques.

5. Minimal Sample Preparation

Additionally, one of the advantages of DART-MS is its ability to analyze samples without the need for extensive preparation. Some MS techniques require complex extraction, purification, or derivatization steps. However, a benefit of DART-MS is that it can analyze samples in their original form. This convenience simplifies the workflow and reduces the potential for errors or contamination, enhancing efficiency and productivity.

6. Versatility

This method can analyze a variety of sample types including:

Chemical sample analysis with DART-MS

7. Low Cost

The minimal sample preparation and rapid non-destructive analysis allow a relatively low-cost technique. Therefore, enforcement authorities tend to use DART-MS to verify the environmental compliance of products.

Disadvantages of DART-MS

Just like any chemical analysis technique, that one presents some disadvantages, including:

1. Limited Ionization Efficiency

DART-MS may have lower ionization efficiency compared to some other ionization techniques. Thus, improving an analyte’s ionization efficiency and sensitivity may require specific sample treatments.

2. Matrix Effects

Matrix effects can affect this technique. Co-eluting compounds or matrix components can cause ion suppression or enhancement effects. This phenomenon may impact the accuracy of quantitative results. Therefore, to improve selectivity, one may require additional separation techniques.

What is a Matrix?

In the context of DART-MS, a matrix is a substance mixed with an analyte. It can:

  • Assist with the ionization of molecules.
  • Help uniformize the distribution of molecules at the surface.
  • Aid in background signal suppression.
  • Improve ionization efficiency.
  • Absorbs and neutralizes unwanted contaminants.

3. Limited Structural Information

Compared with other fragmentation-type techniques, it may be challenging to decipher complex molecular structures with DART-MS. Indeed, limited fragmentation patterns characterize this technique. Therefore, comprehensive structural analysis may require complementary methods.

Applications of DART-MS

DART-MS finds applications in various industries where rapid and accurate analysis is crucial. For environmental analysis, it can detect and monitor pollutants such as:

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

DART-MS detects whether a product contains Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in a product, making it useful for environmental compliance purposes. For example, DART-MS identifies and quantifies POPs like Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs).

Moreover, Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulations cover some POPs like PBBS. Therefore, using DART-MS to establish their presence aids in the compliance process.

Persistent Organic Pollutants POPs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

This technique rapidly screens and identifies VOC pollutants in the air, water, soil, and petrochemical samples. VOCs to watch out for include:

  • Benzene
  • Toluene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Xylene
Benzene resonance structures

Flame Retardant Testing using DART-MS

DART-MS swiftly detects and quantifies flame retardants ensuring compliance with safety regulations for textile, electronics, and construction materials.


Phthalate Analysis

Moreover, DART-MS plays a vital role in identifying and measuring phthalates in consumer products, such as toys, cosmetics, and food packaging. Regulatory authorities can use this information to enforce safety standards and protect consumers.

Polyaromatic Amine Screening with DART-MS

DART-MS plays an instrumental role in detecting polyaromatic amines. These molecules are carcinogens in plastics, pesticides, tobacco smoke, and environmental samples.


DART-MS with an ISO 17025-Certified Laboratory

Finally, opt to operate this instrument by trained personnel. Executing tests by an ISO 17025-certified laboratory ensures efficient sample analysis and reliable results.

Any questions? Request your free consultation with Enviropass