How do we test for heavy metals?

NB: Currently, we can’t perform analyses on heavy metals. We hope to have this service available again in the future.


The method we use for finding heavy metals in a sample is called ICP-MS, which stands for Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. In this article you will learn more about how ICP-MS works, what information it provides us with and why we are using ICP-MS for the identification of heavy metals.


What is chromatography?

Chromatography is a separation technique in which mixtures of substances are separated into their respective components. There are various types of chromatography, including gas chromatography, paper chromatography, and thin layer chromatography. The technique we choose depends on what we are trying to find out. For the identification of heavy metals ICP(-MS) is superior. The results of chromatography are displayed in a chromatogram, a visual representation of the research. This chromatogram is similar to a simple graph. The peaks and patterns are indications for the presence of various components (in this case, heavy metals).


How does ICP-MS work?

In order to be able to profile heavy metals, we must isolate these metal particles from the sample . We use Argon to do so. Argon is a so-called inert gas, which means that it won’t have a chemical interaction with the sample. The argon is heated to a temperature of about 5000 degrees. Due to this high temperature the argon takes on the form of plasma. Plasma is the fourth form in which matter expresses itself (in addition to solid, liquid and gas). In the next step the sample is introduced into the plasma. Because of the heath the sample will fall apart into the individual atoms that is consists of. After that, these atoms will be ionized (which means they are given an electrical charge). Finally, these ionized atoms will pass the MS (mass spectrometer) in which they are identified by their mass, which is unique for each atom. Using the MS we can also determine the concentration of each atom and thus of each heavy metal.


What does ICP-MS bring us?

ICP-MS gives us a very complete picture of the heavy metals that are part of a particular sample. It can also be used to determine the concentrations of these metals very precisely, even in extremely low concentrations.


NB: Currently, we can’t perform analyses on heavy metals. We hope to have this service available again in the future.