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Anal Bioanal Chem. 2002 Sep;374(2):188-95. Epub 2002 May 25.

Electrothermal vaporisation ICP-mass spectrometry (ETV-ICP-MS) for the determination and speciation of trace elements in solid samples - A review of real-life applications from the author's lab.

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  • 1Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, Ghent University, Institute for Nuclear Sciences, Proeftuinstraat 86, Belgium.


The use of electrothermal vaporisation (ETV) from a graphite furnace as a means of sample introduction in inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) permits the direct analysis of solid samples. A multi-step furnace temperature programme is used to separate the vaporisation of the target element(s) and of the matrix components from one another. Sometimes, a chemical modifier is used to enable a higher thermal pre-treatment temperature, by avoiding premature analyte losses (stabilisation) or promoting the selective volatilisation of matrix components. In almost all instances, accurate results can be obtained via external calibration or single standard addition using an aqueous standard solution. Absolute limits of detection are typically ~1 pg, which corresponds to 1 ng/g for a typical sample mass of 1 mg. Real-life applications carried out in the author's lab are used to illustrate the utility of this approach. These applications aim at trace element determination in industrial and environmental materials. The industrial materials analysed include different types of plastics - Carilon, polyethylene, poly(ethyleneterephtalate) and polyamide - and photo- and thermographic materials. As samples from environmental origin, plant material, animal tissue and sediments were investigated. Some applications aimed at a multi-element determination, while in other, the content of a single, but often challenging, element (e.g., Si or S) had to be measured. ETV-ICP-MS was also used in elemental speciation studies. Separation of Se-containing proteins was accomplished using polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE). Subsequent quantification of the Se content in the protein spots was carried out using ETV-ICP-MS. As the volatilisation of methylmercury and inorganic mercury could be separated from one another with respect to time, no chromatographic or electrophoretic separation procedure was required, but ETV-ICP-MS as such sufficed for Hg speciation in fish tissue.

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