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Team TFS
Team TFS
trace elemental analysis_2In my previous blog post, I established a set of key terms that are relevant when discussing elemental analysis. Here, I will use those terms to discuss a topic that must be addressed when tackling a new application: which instrument technique is best to use for your application? In some cases, a regulatory body will direct you toward a particular technique for your analyses. For example, if you’re in a drinking water lab and you’re reporting to EPA Method 200.7, you’ll need to use an ICP-OES (link to product page) to satisfy the requirements of the method. If you’re in a pharmaceutical lab and you’re reporting data under the new USP guidelines (Chapters <232>, <233>, <2232>), you’ll be encouraged to use an ICP-OES or an ICP-MS (link to product page) to quantify elemental impurities.


In other cases, the instrument selection isn’t made based upon regulatory requirements. However, the decision is relatively straightforward, based upon the needs of your particular application. For example, if your laboratory’s only focus is to determine trace levels of lead in whole blood samples, a graphite furnace-AAS (link to product page) instrument would be optimal. If your laboratory is responsible for quantifying mercury species in fish, an ion chromatograph (link to product page) coupled to an ICP-MS will provide you with the speciation capability and sensitivity required for this application.


How to Choose the Best Technique for the Task at Hand

For applications in which instrument selection isn’t obvious, how do laboratories choose which technique is best? The first and, in my opinion, the most important question to ask is:  What are the detection limit requirements for this application? There’s no sense in considering an instrument if it doesn’t provide you with the sensitivity you need to accurately measure the lowest concentrations you’re expecting to encounter in your samples.

Once you’ve determined your detection limit requirements, additional questions to ask include:

  • What is the range of concentrations you expect to encounter in your samples?

  • How many elements do you need to measure in your samples?

  • How many samples do you need to measure per day or per week?

  • Do the sample matrices contain challenging components (high levels of dissolved solids, volatile organics)?


A Thought Process to Consider

When evaluating your instrument options, consider the following flow chart to help guide your selection. Keep in mind that this is a general guide to get you started. If your laboratory must analyze hundreds of samples a day, you’ll want to carefully consider your options for automating your instrument and maximizing its sample throughput ability.


A selection can also be guided based on your laboratory requirements as well as your application requirements. For example, what kind of bench space do you have available in your laboratory? There’s no sense in purchasing an instrument if you don’t have space for it in your lab, right?


Hopefully you find this information useful when tackling your next application challenge. Stay tuned for future posts that will discuss method optimization and strategies for analyzing challenging samples. If you have topics you would like addressed, please let me know in the comments section.


Additional Resources

For more information, check out our trace elemental analysis page, our knowledge base, and the useful resources below.

·        Trace Elemental Analysis of Waste Associated with Power Generation

·        Food Safety Application Notes for Trace Elemental Analysis

·        Environmental Applications Notebook for Trace Elemental Analysis

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I would like to congratulate the company for such a good blog. It's helping a lot. I really appreciate this dedication with the public and i felt the necessity to let you know it. Congratulations again.
Team TFS
Team TFS
Thank you for the kind words, Ticiane. We're happy that you're benefiting from the information.
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Bonjour, je suis doctorante en biologie et environnement, j'ai utilisé l'icp/eos et l'icp/ms dans l'analyses du plomb et cadmium dans les organes de poissons. au faite je voudrais savoir quels résultats faudrait prendre en considération parmis les 2 appareils et est-ce que les 2 peuvent fournir des valeurs justes pour ces deux métaux: plomb et cadmium car j'avais remarqué que l'icp/eos avait un probleme de répétabilité pour le plomb.merci.
Team TFS
Team TFS
Les deux techniques (ICP-OES et ICP-MS) fournissent une analyse rapide multi-éléments. Des éléments tels que le Cd et le Pb font souvent l'objet de recherches en raison de leur toxicité, mais de nombreux autres éléments peuvent également être analysés. Étant donné que la concentration dans l'échantillon est suffisamment élevée pour les deux techniques (l'ICP-MS autorise généralement des limites de détection 100 à 1000 fois inférieures) et que toutes les interférences potentielles sont résolues, les résultats doivent être cohérents entre les deux techniques.
Selon une première hypothèse, la préparation des échantillons ou la configuration de la méthode peuvent poser problème, ce qui ne peut pas être résolu sans informations supplémentaires. Votre contact ou distributeur local Thermo Scientific pourra peut-être vous guider. Toutes mes excuses pour une traduction approximative.
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I need information alredy cost the new equip for analysis de Pb and Hg in Blood
Thanks for your attention.
Team TFS
Team TFS
Hi Luis, Thank you for your interest in our products. The analysis of heavy elements in blood is a challenging application, and in order to give you the right recommendation about the required instrumentation, it would be necessary to get a better understanding of the detection limits and throughput you need to achieve. The analysis of these elements in blood can be done with a range of instruments, such as GF-AA, ICP, or ICP-MS, which vary in the above-mentioned criteria and also in price. A comprehensive answer on a possible system price can only be provided by the local sales team, but if you could indicate your affiliation, it will be no problem to arrange that a member of the team can get in touch to further discuss the solution.
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Hi, I would like to ask you which analyzator is better for clinical practise,
Fisrt of all the elements that are upon my inteset is: PD, ZN, SE and also other heavy metals that cause human body intoxication
Regarding Detection limit please apply limit which is considered as an international standard range under which metals influence to human body and applied as risk factor and cause symptoms of intoxication.
Please inform what kind of workload approximatly (how many tests each day) is need for each apparaturs?
Team TFS
Team TFS
Hi Mariam, Thanks for your questions. In practice, most clinical research laboratories use ICP-MS for analysis of trace elements. Palladium (Pd) and selenium (Se) in particular are usually present at quite low levels in clinical samples and so require the sensitivity offered by ICP-MS to measure them accurately. There are no international standard ranges set for detection limits in clinical samples as far as I know, but a great place to start learning more about trace element analysis in these types of sample is the New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, website (see In terms of which metals negatively influence the human body, the most notable are As, Cd, Hg, Cr (as Cr(VI)) and Pb. Nutritional elements such as Cu, Zn and Se also become toxic at high levels. Finally, with regard to workload, one ICP-MS can easily analyse more than 100 samples per working day (6 to 7 hours).
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Hi Sir,
For % analysis, why you do not mention about XRF analysis ?
in the picture , you just mention on ICP - OES ?