The Analysis of Trace Elements using Inductively Coupled Plasma Based Techniques in Environmental Laboratories: Everyday Workhorses and Problem Solvers

Metals Analysis and Remediation
Oral Presentation

Prepared by , S. Antonio, D. Kutscher, S. McSheehy Ducos

Contact Information:; 408-481-4555


In order to assure that the environment is clean and our food and other consumer products are safe, a busy lab can run up to several thousand samples a day, following established regulatory guidelines, such as EPA methods 200.7 and 200.8 for drinking waters. This requires powerful analytical tools in order to perform robust and reliable quantification without manual intervention. This is possible using both inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). At the same time, samples typically arriving in environmental laboratories, can create a lot of challenges for analysis. High amounts of salts (typically described as total dissolved solids in ICP based analysis), which may lead to matrix effects in an ICP source, and certain elements may create severe interferences, causing false positive results if not adequately corrected for.
ICP-OES is a fundamental technique for trace elemental analysis, however, in comparison to atomic absorption, it may have higher running costs, which is easily offset by its ability to do multi-elemental analysis. In case ultimate detection limits are required, ICP-MS, and especially triple quadrupole based ICP-MS should be the preferred choice. However, where fast and cost effective multi-elemental analysis is required without the need to measure elemental concentrations at ultra-trace levels, ICP-OES is a perfect choice. High throughput laboratories highly appreciate the outstanding robustness and flexibility of ICP-OES, and use the technique as their preferred option.
In contrast, ICP-MS is one of the most powerful detectors that is used for elemental analysis. It provides the advantage of quantification of trace elements at decisively lower limits of detection, high sample throughput and the possibility of speciation analysis when coupled with other analytical tools.
This presentation will show how each of the two techniques will fit into a typical environmental laboratory and highlights the available tools to tackle both sample matrix related as well as interference based challenges. Additionally, it will be demonstrated how dedicated solutions in both hardware and software will allow all staff levels to fully leverage the potential of intelligent sample handling and how triple quadrupole ICP-MS enables advanced interference removal.