This work presents a modified method to analyze chlorophenoxy acid herbicides in water samples. The herbicides 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), Silvex (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxypropionic acid) and 2,4,5-T (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid) were used to evaluate the method. The method involves extraction of samples by a graphitized carbon black cartridge, and on-line derivatization in the GC injection port using a large-volume (10-20 μl) direct sample introduction (DSI) device with tetraalkylammonium salts. The analytes were then identified and quantitated by ion-trap gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The large-volume DSI injection-port derivatization technique provides sensitivity, fast and reproducible results for chlorophenoxy acid herbicides residues, to quantitation at 0.1 to 0.2 μg/l in 500-ml water samples. An enhanced characteristic mass chromatogram of molecular ions of butylated chlorophenoxy acid herbicides with a significant chlorine isotope pattern by electron impact ionization MS allows us to determine herbicides residues at trace levels in aqueous samples. Recovery of the herbicide residues in spiked various water samples ranged from 70 to 99% while RSDs ranged from 1 to 13%. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.