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J Chromatogr A. 2003 Jan 3;983(1-2):1-18.

Separation methods in the chemistry of humic substances.

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  • 1Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Jan Evangelista Purkyne, Králova Vysina 7, 400 96 Ustí nad Labem, Czech Republic.


Separation methods are widely used to isolate humic substances (HSs), to fractionate them before further investigation, and to obtain information about their structure and properties. Among the chromatographic methods, techniques based on a size-exclusion effect appear to be most useful, as they allow us to relate elution data to the molecular mass distribution of HSs. The limitations of this approach are discussed in this review. Gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detection is typically used to identify the products of pyrolysis or thermochemolysis of HSs; this technique is considered most important in the structural investigation of HSs. Electrophoretic methods (especially capillary zone electrophoresis) provide detailed characterization of HSs, but it is very difficult to relate the electrophoretic data to any specific subfraction, structure or properties of HSs. The electrophoretic patterns are often called "fingerprints" and can potentially be used for the identification and classification of HSs. This is limited, however, by the great diversity of the procedures employed and by the low degree of harmonization--no data on reproducibility and between-laboratory comparability are available. The same holds true, to a certain degree, for most methods utilized for the characterization of HSs. Separation methods play an important role in the examination of the interactions of HSs with heavy metals and other chemical pollutants. They allow us to determine binding constants and other data necessary to predict the mobility of chemical pollutants in the environment.

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