Determination of the feasibility of using a portable x-ray fluorescence (XFR) analyzer in the field for measurement of lead content of sieved soil

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Soil samples collected in housing areas with potential lead contamination generally are analyzed with flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS) or other laboratory methods. Previous work indicates that field-portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis is capable of detecting soil lead levels comparable to those detected by FAAS in samples sieved to less than 125 μm in a laboratory. A considerable savings, both economical and in laboratory reporting time, would occur if a practical field method could be developed that does not require laboratory digestion and analysis. The XRF method also would provide immediate results that would facilitate the provision of information to residents and other interested parties more quickly than is possible with conventional laboratory methods. The goal of the study reported here was to determine the practicality of using the field-portable XRF analyzer for analysis of lead in soil samples that were sieved in the field. The practicality of using the XRF was determined by the amount of time it took to prepare and analyze the samples in the field and by the ease with which the procedure could be accomplished on site. Another objective of the study was to determine the effects of moisture on the process of sieving the soil. Seventy-eight samples were collected from 30 locations near 10 houses and were prepared and analyzed at the locations where they were collected. Mean soil lead concentrations by XRF were 816 ppm before drying and 817 ppm after drying, and by laboratory FAAS were 1,042 ppm. Correlation of field-portable XRF and FAAS results was excellent for samples sieved to less than 125 μm, with R2 values of .9902 and .992 before and after drying, respectively. The saturation ranged from 10 percent to 90 percent. At 65 percent saturation or higher, it was not feasible to sieve the soil in the field without a thorough drying step, since the soil would not pass through the sieve. Therefore the field method with sieving was not practical when the soil was 65 percent or more saturated unless a time-consuming drying process was included.

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