Chemistry Question #1256

David, a 17 year old male from Ottawa asks on February 12, 2003,

I was wondering how I could test for things like heavy metals. How can I do that without paying for a commercial water testing kit?

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The answer

Roland K. Pomeroy answered on March 14, 2003

If the heavy metals are not dissolved in water, there will be a digestion step (usually heating with nitric acid) to get the metals (as cations) into water. To detect qualitatively whether heavy metals are present, one concentrates the sample to a small volume (this will require a rotary evaporator). You then do qualitative chemical analysis on the sample. The procedures are given in such books as the one listed below available in most libraries:


D 81 M28 1964

Subject: Chemistry, Analytic -- Qualitative.

Fundamentals of qualitative chemical analysis, semimicro method / By Roy K. McAlpine and Byron A. Soule.


Of course this will require a chemistry set! However qualitative analysis is still done in most first year chemistry courses and David could contact the University of Ottawa to get some assistance with this.


It might be just as quick to send the sample (if it's just one) to a commercial organization that do these analysis cheaply on a routine basis. And of course the results are quantitative (i.e., reports the actual amount present). According to Anna Becalska, Ph.D., and Senior Scientist, Process and Analysis Division, BC Research Inc:

"For a full scan of heavy metals by ICP [inductively coupled plasma] it costs about CA$35-50. One element by Atomic Absorption costs CA$10-15."


Visit BC Research for details.


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