Detection and Quantification of Silver Nanoparticles at Environmentally Relevant Concentrations Using Asymmetric Flow Field–Flow Fractionation Online with Single Particle Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry

The presence of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) in aquatic environments could potentially cause adverse impacts on ecosystems and human health. However, current understanding of the environmental fate and transport of AgNPs is still limited because their properties in complex environmental samples cannot be accurately determined. In this study, the feasibility of using asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AF4) connected online with single particle inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (spICPMS) to detect and quantify AgNPs at environmentally relevant concentrations was investigated. The AF4 channel had a thickness of 350 μm and its accumulation wall was a 10 kDa regenerated cellulose membrane. A 0.02% FL-70 surfactant solution was used as an AF4 carrier. With 1.2 mL/min AF4 cross-flow rate, 1.5 mL/min AF4 channel flow rate, and 5 ms spICPMS dwell time, the AF4-spICPMS can detect and quantify 40–80 nm AgNPs, as well as Ag-SiO<sub>2</sub> core−shell nanoparticles (51.0 nm diameter Ag core and 21.6 nm SiO<sub>2</sub> shell), with good recovery within 30 min. This system was not only effective in differentiating and quantifying different types of AgNPs with similar hydrodynamic diameters, such as in mixtures containing Ag-SiO<sub>2</sub> core–shell nanoparticles and 40–80 nm AgNPs, but also suitable for differentiating between 40 nm AgNPs and elevated Ag<sup>+</sup> content. The study results indicate that AF4-spICPMS is capable of detecting and quantifying AgNPs and other engineered metal nanomaterials in environmental samples. Nevertheless, further studies are needed before AF4-spICPMS can become a routine analytical technique.