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Anal Bioanal Chem. 2007 May;388(2):329-40. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

Simultaneous determination of trace levels of ethylmercury and methylmercury in biological samples and vaccines using sodium tetra(n-propyl)borate as derivatizing agent.

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Department of Environmental Sciences, Jozef Stefan Institute, Jamova 39, 1000, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


Because of increasing awareness of the potential neurotoxicity of even low levels of organomercury compounds, analytical techniques are required for determination of low concentrations of ethylmercury (EtHg) and methylmercury (MeHg) in biological samples. An accurate and sensitive method has been developed for simultaneous determination of methylmercury and ethylmercury in vaccines and biological samples. MeHg and EtHg were isolated by acid leaching (H2SO4-KBr-CuSO4), extraction of MeHg and EtHg bromides into an organic solvent (CH2Cl2), then back-extraction into Milli-Q water. MeHg and EtHg bromides were derivatized with sodium tetrapropylborate (NaBPr4), collected at room temperature on Tenax, separated by isothermal gas chromatography (GC), pyrolysed, and detected by cold-vapour atomic fluorescence spectrometry (CV AFS). The repeatability of results from the method was approximately 5-10% for EtHg and 5-15% for MeHg. Detection limits achieved were 0.01 ng g-1 for EtHg and MeHg in blood, saliva, and vaccines and 5 ng g-1 for EtHg and MeHg in hair. The method presented has been shown to be suitable for determination of background levels of these contaminants in biological samples and can be used in studies related to the health effects of mercury and its species in man. This work illustrates the possibility of using hair and blood as potential biomarkers of exposure to thiomersal.

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