Determination of total arsenic concentrations in nails by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry

Biol Trace Elem Res. 1999 Feb;67(2):109-25. doi: 10.1007/BF02784067.


The analysis of trace elements in biological samples will extend our understanding of the impact that environmental exposure to these elements has on human health. Measuring arsenic content in nails has proven useful in studies evaluating the chronic body burden of arsenic. In this study, we developed methodology with inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) for the determination of total arsenic in nails. We assessed the utility of the washing procedures for removing surface contamination. Four types of preanalysis treatments (water bath, sonication, water bath plus sonication, and control) after sample decomposition by nitric acid were compared to evaluate the digestion efficiencies. In addition, we studied the stability of the solution over 1 wk and the effect of acidity on the arsenic signal. Arsenic content in the digested solution was analyzed by using Ar-N2 plasma with Te as the internal standard. The results suggest that washing once with 1% Triton X-100 for 20 min for cleaning nail samples prior to ICP-MS analysis is satisfactory. Repeated measurement analysis of variance revealed that there was no significant difference among the various sample preparation techniques. Moreover, the measurements were reproducible within 1 wk, and acidity seemed to have no substantial influence on the arsenic signal. A limit of detection (on the basis of three times the standard deviation of the blank measurement) of 7 ng As/g toenail was achieved with this system, and arsenic recoveries from reference materials (human hair and nails) were in good agreement (95-106% recovery) with the certified/reference values of the standard reference materials. ICP-MS offers high accuracy and precision, as well as high-throughput capacity in the analysis of total arsenic in nail samples.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Nails / chemistry*
  • Nitric Acid / chemistry
  • Octoxynol / chemistry
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sonication
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors


  • Nitric Acid
  • Octoxynol
  • Arsenic