Field‐Portable Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


MeSH Terms

Chromatography, Gas

Subject: LCSH

Gas chromatography


Forensic Science and Technology


Portable gas chromatograph–mass spectrometer (GC‐MS) systems are currently used in the field for the analysis of both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs). Detection, identification, and quantitative analysis of these chemicals are performed using this technology so that scene assessment and remediation may occur. Although originally designed and deployed to meet the needs of the environmental‐analysis community, the use of field‐portable GC‐MS systems has extended to other markets including emergency response and the military. These new markets have different requirements from those of the environmental field. They have driven instrument manufacturers to innovate smaller, lighter, and easier‐to‐use systems with expanded capabilities and aggressive fielding and performance specifications.

Unlike most other field‐portable detectors, portable GC‐MS systems allow for the conclusive identification of gases and vapors, even when these substances are present at trace levels in complex matrices. This is a powerful capability and is the primary reason GC‐MS is considered the gold standard for the identification of gases and vapors. Different vendors of these systems employ different types of systems, each with perceived advantages and disadvantages. Practically, the GC (gas chromatography) limits analysis time, while the mass‐analyzer type is generally the limiting factor for field performance and operational capability. Other instrument features may also influence a system's capability in the field. Depending upon the application and the reason for the analysis, these factors may be critical for successful deployment.

The purpose of this article is to describe the history and current state of portable GC‐MS technology. Instrument design, as well as relevant features that impact performance and operation in the field, is considered. This discussion is intended to highlight the value each type of system offers the user, as well as describe challenges for successful deployment.


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Publisher Citation

Pauline E. Leary, Kammrath, Brooke W., and John A. Reffner (2018). Field‐Portable Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry. In Meyers, Robert A., ed. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry: Applications, Theory and Instrumentation. Bognor Regis, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. doi:10.1002/9780470027318.a9583