Technology Simultaneously Measures 71 Elements in Water

Researchers at New York University (NYU) recently developed a new method for simultaneous measurement of 71 inorganic elements in liquids — including groundwater. The method, utilizing sequential inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, makes element testing much faster, more efficient, and more comprehensive than was possible in the past.

The NYU researchers studied samples of liquid from a variety of sources worldwide, including tap water from a New York City suburb, snow from Italy and Croatia, rain from Brazil and Pakistan, lake water from Switzerland and Croatia, and seawater from Japan and Brazil.  Testing each sample results in a distinct elemental pattern, creating a “fingerprint” that can help differentiate between substances or trace a liquid back to its environmental origin.

The method—developed by researchers at the isotope laboratory of NYU College of Dentistry and described in the journal RSC Advances, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry—may be used to explore and understand the distribution of inorganic elements beyond the few that are typically measured. It has implications for fields such as nutrition, ecology and climate science, and environmental health.

An analytical technique called inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is used to measure elements. Historically, ICP-MS instruments have measured elements sequentially, or one by one, but a new type of ICP‐MS instrument at NYU College of Dentistry and roughly two dozen other places around the world has the potential to measure the complete range of inorganic elements all at once.


“Because of this new method, our mass spectrometer can simultaneously measure all inorganic elements from lithium to uranium. We’re able to measure the elements in far less time, at far less expense, using far less material,” said Timothy Bromage, professor of biomaterials and of basic science and craniofacial biology at NYU College of Dentistry and the study’s senior author.

This technological advancement may help to fill gaps in our understanding of element distributions and concentrations in substances like water. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monitors and sets maximum concentration limits for 19 elements in drinking water considered to be health risks, yet many elements known to have health consequences—such as lithium or tin—are neither monitored nor regulated.

“The elemental mapping of concentration levels in bottled and tap water could help to increase our understanding of ‘normal’ concentration levels of most elements in water,” said Bromage.

Bromage and his colleagues designed a method for using simultaneous ICP-MS to detect 71 elements of the inorganic spectrum involving a specific set of calibration and internal standards. The method, for which they have a patent pending, routinely detects elements in seconds to several minutes and in samples as small as 1 to 4 milliliters.

In each sample,​ Bromage and ​his team found ​a distinct ​“​fingerprint”​ or elemental ​pattern, ​suggesting that ​samples can be ​recognized and ​differentiated ​by these ​patterns. The ​elemental ​content of ​water, for ​example, ​typically ​reflects its ​natural ​environment, so ​understanding ​the elemental ​composition can ​tell us if ​water had its ​origins from a ​source with ​volcanic rock ​versus ​limestone, an ​alkaline rock.

Confirming the Chemical Identity

Philip Tackett, a certified HAZMAT responder and a Product Manager at FLIR, discusses its latest tool for chemical identification


By Philip Tackett

Civilian and military responders face scenarios ranging from intentional chemical attacks and accidental hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases to natural disasters and environmental monitoring or remediation efforts.  Responders step on-scene with a diverse toolkit – sometimes small and other times extensive.  It is critical to stay familiar with the equipment in the kit, because no single chemical detection tool can provide answers for every scenario.

Colorimetric test kits are one of the most commonly used technologies for quickly collecting presumptive information about a chemical.  They are used to determine if a threat is present and determine its chemical class.  This information is important, but knowing the exact identity of a chemical can inform a safer response.  True chemical identity can provide information to responders and law enforcement officials beyond the initial threat, and lead to further discoveries to further safeguard the public.

Griffin G510

While some detectors only indicate the presence of a chemical, others specifically detect hazards in the presence of a complex chemical background, like a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC/MS).  GC/MS is an incredibly sensitive and highly specific tool commonly used in laboratory environments.  It can sense trace level chemicals other equipment can’t, while also providing the ability to positively identify the chemical.  But chemical emergencies don’t just happen in laboratories – they can happen anywhere.

Real-time chemical detection and identification in the field is critical to the Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) defense or HAZMAT response mission.  Confirmatory chemical identification enables responders to mitigate a threat and protect people and the environment from harm.

The most challenging aspects of taking gold-standard technology like GC/MS into the field is survivability in harsh environments and ease of use.  Significant technological advancements have led to the development of the FLIR Griffin G510 person-portable GC/MS system.  Its lab-quality detection performance, simple-to-use interface, and rugged construction are ideal for high-consequence response missions.

Response missions take place in complex environments that the GC/MS must withstand.  The Griffin G510 is completely self-contained in a 36-pound device, including batteries, carrier gas, vacuum system, injector, and heated sample probe.  It is also the first IP65-rated portable GC/MS.  This means it’s dust-tight and spray-resistant, which adds flexibility to decontamination procedures.  There is no 40-pound external service module like other portable GC/MS systems and no 20-pound external pump under the bench like those seen in a laboratory.  Batteries last up to four hours and are hot swappable, should the mission extend longer than expected, which eliminates the need for a power generator.  The Griffin G510 is designed from the ground up to operate outside of the lab.

Griffin G510 syringe injection

Hazmat technicians will dive into using the features that deliver lab-quality analysis.  First on-scene operators will appreciate that they don’t need a Ph.D. to use it.  Basic operator training is completed in only two hours, while expert training can be completed in a single day.  The user interface truly sets it apart from other portable GC/MS systems.  It’s streamlined design and guided controls help the user select the mode of operation.  First responders must perform quickly and with limited dexterity when wearing required PPE.  They are responsible for sample and data collection, and in some cases, real-time decision making.  The G510 alerts the operator with visual alarm confirmation both on the handheld probe, as well as the on-board 9” touchscreen.  The large touchscreen can be operated by a responder while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazmat responders can use the Griffin G510 to analyze all phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas). Its integrated survey mode capability identifies vapor-phase chemical threats within seconds.  Its integrated split/splitless liquid injector enables responders to perform direct injection of organic liquids – an industry first.  This same injector also accepts other sampling tools, including solid-phase microextraction (SPME), off-the-shelf headspace analyzers, and the Prepless Sample Introduction (PSI) Probe.  The PSI-Probe directly accepts solid samples in their native form (such as soil and water-based materials).  The Griffin G510 reduces the burden of sample preparation for the operator and provides ultimate flexibility as the daily mission changes.

Hazardous environments demand the ultimate toolbox include confirmatory instrumentation like GC/MS. The Griffin G510 portable GC/MS redefines performance, ease of use, and value for the responder toolkit.

Griffin G510 – checking readout