Recent Developments in the Analysis of Toxic Elements

Science  14 Jun 1974:
Vol. 184, Issue 4142, pp. 1137-1141
DOI: 10.1126/science.184.4142.1137


One may conclude that it is impractical to confine oneself to any one analytical method since ever more sensitive instrumentation continues to be produced. However, in certain methods such as anodic stripping voltammetry and flameless atomic absorption it may be background contamination from reagent impurities and surroundings rather than instrument sensitivity which controls the limits of element detection. The problem of contamination from dust or glassware is greatly magnified when the sample size becomes ever smaller. Air entering laboratories near highways may contain trace quantities of lead, cadmium, barium, antimony, and other elements from engine exhaust. Even plastic materials contacting the sample may be suspect as a source of contamination since specific metals may be used as catalysts in the synthesis of the plastic and traces may be retained in it. Certain elements may even be deliberately added to plastics during manufacture for identification purposes. Nondestructive methods such as neutron activation and x-ray techniques thus offer great advantages not only in time but in the elimination of impurities introduced during sample ashing. Future improvements in attainable limits of detection may arise largely from progress in the ultrapurification of reagents and "clean-room" techniques. Finally, the competence of the analyst is also vitally important in the skillful operation of modern complex analytical instrumentation and in the experienced evaluation of data.