Forensic fire debris analysis is an important part of fire investigation, and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is the accepted standard for detection of ignitable liquids in fire debris. While GC-MS is the dominant technique, comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC×GC-MS) is gaining popularity. Despite the broad use of these techniques, their sensitivities are poorly characterized for petroleum-based ignitable liquids. Accordingly, we explored the limit of identification (LOI) using the protocols currently applied in accredited forensic labs for two 75% evaporated gasolines and a 25% evaporated diesel as both neat samples and in the presence of interfering pyrolysate typical of fire debris. GC-MSD (mass selective detector (MS)), GC-TOF (time-of-flight (MS)), and GC×GC-TOF were evaluated under matched conditions to determine the volume of ignitable liquid required on-column for correct identification by three experienced forensic examiners performing chromatographic interpretation in accordance with ASTM E1618-14. GC-MSD provided LOIs of ~0.6 pL on-column for both neat gasolines, and ~12.5 pL on-column for neat diesel. In the presence of pyrolysate, the gasoline LOIs increased to ~6.2 pL on-column, while diesel could not be correctly identified at the concentrations tested. For the neat dilutions, GC-TOF generally provided 2× better sensitivity over GC-MSD, while GC×GC-TOF generally resulted in 10× better sensitivity over GC-MSD. In the presence of pyrolysate, GC-TOF was generally equivalent to GC-MSD, while GC×GC-TOF continued to show 10× greater sensitivity relative to GC-MSD. Our findings demonstrate the superior sensitivity of GC×GC-TOF and provide an important approach for interlaboratory benchmarking of modern instrumental performance in fire debris analysis.
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