We were lucky to have Dr George Frame, PCB Analyst Emeritus as I call him, speak at Restek on the GC of PCBs prior to his plenary lecture at the International Network of Environmental Forensics meeting at The Pennsylvania State University last week. While working as Chief of PCB Analytical R&D at GE Central Research Labs in Schenectady, NY, George created and implemented the landmark study on Comprehensive Quantitative Congener Specific (CQCS) PCB analysis in the early 90s that involved a collaborative of researchers and column vendors to profile elution orders on 20 different GC stationary phases for all 209 PCB congeners. I was honored to contribute to this study and speak in George’s organized PittCon session on congener-specific PCB analysis in 1996, which George notes is one of the highlights of his career (chairing that session, not my talk!). George and I formed a fast friendship at PittCon and soon after we published the definitive characterization for PCBs in Aroclors with Soren Böwadt, as well as a review paper on PCB analysis.
George’s talk at Restek included PCB structure and nomenclature, Aroclor production, early analytical efforts (e.g. packed column GC work, EPA methods, congener-specific methods based on Aroclor mixes), non-Aroclor analysis challenges (including atropisomers), GCxGC, and anecdotes from years of doing PCBs. One of the most interesting stories was how he discovered a late production lot of Aroclor 1254 representing only 1% of total Aroclor 1254 production had higher amounts of toxic mono-ortho and coplanar congeners. This Aroclor was created by chlorinating to 54% the still bottoms remaining from the production of Aroclor 1016. The reason this is so important is that many toxicological studies on Aroclor 1254 employed this disproportionately produced Aroclor.
George’s talk reminded us too that chromatography is so important for congener-specific work, as mass spectrometry cannot typically distinguish isomers. He also noted that even with the mass spectrometry advantage, there is still no “Holy Grail” GC column that can separate all 209 PCBs, or even the ~140 Aroclor congeners. Sounds like a good challenge for a chromatography company like Restek!