Toxic metals detector

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a new and inexpensive detection system that identifies personal exposures to toxic lead and other dangerous heavy metals.


The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has developed a new and inexpensive detection system that identifies personal exposures to toxic lead and other dangerous heavy metals.



PNNL’s portable analyser system can detect toxic metals in blood, urine and saliva samples and is aimed at high-risk populations, including industrial workers, children and people living in polluted areas.



The device can use two classes of sensors for detecting lead and other heavy metals. The first is based on a flow injection system using a mercury-film electrode to analyse metals in a sample.



To eliminate the use of toxic mercury in conducting the analysis, the second class of the sensor uses a mercury-free approach of nanostructure materials developed at PNNL. This involves use of either Self-Assembled Monolayers on Mesoporous Supports (SAMMS technology) or functionalised magnetic nanoparticles that provide above average detection sensitivity at a parts-per-billion level.



The new detection system is field-deployable with plug-and-play features that allow different sensors to be easily exchanged to detect a variety of heavy metal toxins. The entire system is battery-operated and requires about one and one-half times the power of a typical laptop computer. The system also delivers measurements within a two-to-five minute analysis period.


Early production cost estimates indicate that the device may be as much as 10 times less expensive than existing plasma mass spectrometry systems, which PNNL say lack field portability and require samples to be returned to the lab for analysis.