The determination of total mercury in whole blood 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, nonbiodegradable, 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 toxicant enters both the plant and aquatic system food chain, and eventually ends up in the crops, vegetables and seafood we consume. In addition to being ingested via the food we eat, mercury can also enter the human body through contact with the skin and by inhalation into the lungs, where it can eventually end up in the bloodstream.

This application note will focus on a rapid test method for determining mercury directly in whole blood 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 very little sample preparation required, this novel approach can determine the total mercury content in whole blood samples in less than five minutes, which offers significant time-saving over traditional methods, which use dilution and/or acid digestion/oxidation followed by conventional chemical reduction using cold vapor atomic absorption spectrometry (CVAA).

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