A method for determination of the primary nerve agent degradation products ethyl-, isopropyl-, isobutyl-, cyclohexyl- and pinacolyl methylphosphonic acid in aqueous soil extracts has been developed utilizing on-line solid phase extraction-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry (SPE–LC–MS). Four different stationary phases (ZrO2, TiO2, polymeric mixed mode anion exchange and porous graphitic carbon) were investigated for their suitability as SPE materials in the on-line SPE–LC–MS setup. Zirconium dioxide was chosen due to its high affinity for the alkyl methylphosphonic acids (AMPAs), and its compatibility with LC–MS. Aqueous soil extracts were acidified with 0.1% acetic acid and aliquots of 300 μL were injected on a 2 mm × 10 mm ZrO2 column. Separation of the analytes was performed on a reversed phase column with acetonitrile/water gradient and 15 mM ammonium acetate. Method validation was performed with the analytes added to an aqueous extract of a loam soil, and the AMPAs could be determined at concentrations as low as 0.05–0.5 μg L−1. The method was linear (R2 > 0.995) from the limit of quantification (LOQ) to 100 × LOQ, and the within assay repeatability was below 10% and 5% relative standard deviation at LOQ and 50 × LOQ, respectively. The developed method was employed for determination of the AMPAs which had been added to the aqueous extracts of five different soil types from cultivated and uncultivated areas. The obtained recoveries showed that the analytes could be determined at the sensitivities achieved in the method validation in four of the extracts. For the first time, we have demonstrated a method capable of detecting primary nerve agent degradation products at sub ppb levels in the aqueous extracts of various soils. The method requires no sample preparation after soil extraction other than pH adjustment of the aqueous extract.
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