The determination of total mercury in fish and agricultural plant materials using thermal decomposition and amalgamation coupled with atomic absorption

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Courtesy of PerkinElmer, Inc.

Mercury has long been recognized as a serious global pollutant that has a significant impact upon our ecosystem. Unlike most other pollutants, it is highly mobile, non-biodegradable, and bio-accumulative and as a result has to be closely monitored to ensure its harmful effects on local populations are minimized. Approximately 50 tons of mercury particulates are emitted into the atmosphere every year by a variety of different man-made and natural sources including coal-fired power plants, solid waste incineration plants, volcanoes and forest fires. When the mercury falls back to earth it is deposited on the land and gets into the soil, river sediments and water ecosystems, where it is converted into the highly toxic organo mercury compound, methyl mercury (CH3Hg+). This oxicant enters both the plant and aquatic system food chain, and eventually ends up in the crops, vegetables and seafood we consume.

This application note will focus on a rapid test method for determining mercury directly in food materials and agricultural crops using the principles of thermal decomposition, amalgamation and detection by atomic absorption described in EPA Method 7473 and ASTM Method 6722-01. Because there is no sample dissolution required, this novel approach can determine the total mercury content in these types of samples in less than five minutes, which is significantly faster than the traditional wet chemical reduction method for quantifying mercury.

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