Jacob de Boer from the VU University, Institute for Environmental Studies, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, gave the first plenary lecture at BFR 2105 in Beijing, “Recent Trends in the Use and Environmental Occurrence OF Flame Retardants: More - Less Persistent – More Toxic?” As expected, his thought-provoking talk covered a wide range of brominated flame retardants (e.g. PBDEs, HBCD, TBBPA) and their environmental impacts, but he also spent time on phosphorus-based flame retardants (PFRs), which are sometimes touted as safer alternatives to BFRs, even if they are halogenated PFRs. And, he emphasized that chlorinated paraffins, which are not only used as flame retardants but more often as cutting fluids, are showing up in alarmingly high concentrations in environmental samples. The challenges for quantitatively analyzing this class of compounds include lack of good reference materials (mainly middle-carbon chlorine-substituted congeners) and sample complexity (there are 1000s of congeners based on opportunity for hydrocarbon type and chlorine position).
The challenge for separating complex samples is exactly why I’m glad to work for Restek, one of the only chromatography companies to focus on unique GC and LC stationary phases. We have to remember that mass spectrometry cannot do all of the work, especially when isobaric congeners are involved. Chromatography lives!
On a personal note, one of the reasons I got into gas chromatography, and particularly multidimensional gas chromatography like GCxGC, was based on reading Jacob de Boer’s elegant works decades ago on heart-cut GC of PCB congeners. I hope Jacob’s current work continues to inspire other scientists.