From: Science Daily
Published April 3, 2009 10:10 AM

First Accurate Test For Arsenic In Soil Developed

If you have a cat or dog who likes to hide under the deck or children who play on equipment made with pressure-treated wood, you’ll be glad to hear that analytical chemist Julian Tyson and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently developed the first-ever accurate test for arsenic compounds in soil, promising a significantly improved environmental and health impact assessment. The method holds some promise for detecting naturally occurring high arsenic levels in Asian rice, as well.

In North America, arsenic is found most commonly under decks and near structures such as playground gyms made of pressure-treated wood, which is impregnated with heavy metals. The squeezed-in chromium, copper and arsenic make wood weather-resistant and durable but they also slowly leach out into the environment, mainly soil. The potential health impact, called by some an “environmental time bomb,” has been difficult to assess in an objective, quantitative way until now, according to Tyson and his graduate student co-author Khalid Al-Assaf, because the key arsenic compounds stick so tightly to iron oxides that they couldn’t be isolated and measured separately.

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“It’s been very hard to know if this source of contamination was staying put, evaporating into the air or getting into the groundwater,” Tyson explains. Several laboratories have long sought a soil test for arsenic, but his research team is the first to develop a procedure for isolating all the compounds of interest, including the mono- and dimethylated species in soil and accurately measuring them.

Their paper describing the new technique is the cover story for the April 4 issue of the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry published by the British Royal Society of Chemistry, now available online. With the new procedure, chemists can now help to answer questions about whether arsenic compounds are getting into drinking water supplies, being taken up by plants, and whether soil bacteria are involved in the production of methylated compounds.

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