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J Environ Monit. 2010 Jan;12(1):90-109. doi: 10.1039/b914307f. Epub 2009 Dec 15.

How reliable are environmental data on 'orphan' elements? The case of bismuth concentrations in surface waters.

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Institute F.A. Forel, University of Geneva, Route de Suisse 10, CH-1290, Versoix, Switzerland.


Like all elements of the periodic table, bismuth is ubiquitously distributed throughout the environment as a result of natural processes and human activities. It is present as Bi(III) in environmental, biological and geochemical samples. Although bismuth and its compounds are considered to be non-toxic to humans, its increasing use as a replacement for lead has highlighted how little is known about its environmental and ecotoxicological behaviour. In this first critical review paper on the existing information on bismuth occurrence in natural waters, 125 papers on fresh and marine waters have been collated. Although the initial objective of this study was to establish the range of the typical concentrations of total dissolved bismuth in natural waters, this proved impossible to achieve due to the wide, and hitherto unexplained, dispersion of published data. Since analytical limitations might be one of the reasons underlying value dispersion, new analytical methods published since 2000--intended to be applied to natural waters--have also been reviewed. Disappointingly, the detection limits of the bulk of them are well above those required; they are thus of limited usefulness. Analysis of the existing information on bismuth in secondary references (i.e., books, review chapters) and on its chemical speciation in seawater revealed that the uncritical reproduction of old data is a widespread practice.

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