An improved dual-stage protocol to pre-concentrate mercury from airborne particles for precise isotopic measurement

Qiang Huang, Yulong Liu, Jiubin Chen, Xinbin Feng, Weilin Huang, Shengliu Yuan, Hongming Cai, Xuewu Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The Hg isotopic signature may provide insight into tracking the sources and pathways of both airborne particulate matter (PM) and particle-bound Hg (PHg) in the atmosphere. However, separating and concentrating trace levels of PHg and accurately analyzing its isotope ratios remain a technical challenge. Here, we optimized a combustion-trapping dual-stage protocol specifically for the pre-concentration of Hg from a PM sample collected on a quartz fiber membrane (QFM) for high-precision Hg isotopic analysis. The protocol was validated by testing synthetic samples of varying concentrations and trapping solutions of different volumes, and by comparison with two conventional methods (acid digestion and column purification). Using the dual-stage protocol, an individual sample containing up to 570 ng of Hg can be combusted at programmed temperatures in an Hg-free O2 stream, and the volatilized gaseous Hg was trapped in a 5 mL acid (4 M HNO3 and 1.3 M HCl) mixture. The method results in a relatively lower procedural blank and quantitative recovery (99 ± 6%, 2SD, n = 90). Long-term measurements of three certified reference materials (CRM021, CRM024, and GBW07405) with complex matrices using the optimized protocol gave identical Hg isotopic ratios of both mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) and mass-independent fractionation (MIF), in agreement with the results obtained from the standard addition method. The protocol was applied to two PM2.5 samples collected on a 20.3 × 12.5 cm QFM. The result showed evident variations of both MDF and MIF, highlighting the importance of studying Hg isotopic compositions in PM of variable environments in order to fully understand the behaviors of Hg and its isotopes in the atmosphere. This journal is

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)957-966
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of analytical atomic spectrometry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy


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