Determination of mercury in hair: Comparison between gold amalgamation-atomic absorption spectrometry and mass spectrometry

Francesco Domanico, Giovanni Forte, Costanza Majorani, Oreste Senofonte, Francesco Petrucci, Vincenzo Pezzi, Alessandro Alimonti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mercury is a heavy metal that causes serious health problems in exposed subjects. The most toxic form, i.e., methylmercury (MeHg), is mostly excreted through human hair. Numerous analytical methods are available for total Hg analysis in human hair, including cold vapour atomic fluorescence spectrometry (CV-AFS), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and thermal decomposition amalgamation atomic absorption spectrometry (TDA-AAS). The aim of the study was to compare the TDA-AAS with the ICP-MS in the Hg quantification in human hair. After the washing procedure to minimize the external contamination, from each hair sample two aliquots were taken; the first was used for direct analysis of Hg by TDA-AAS and the second was digested for Hg determination by the ICP-MS. Results indicated that the two data sets were fully comparable (median; TDA-AAS, 475 ng g−1; ICP-MS, 437 ng g−1) and were not statistically different (Mann-Whitney test; p = 0.44). The two techniques presented results with a good coefficient of correlation (r = 0.94) despite different operative ranges and method limits. Both techniques satisfied internal performance requirements and the parameters for method validation resulting sensitive, precise and reliable. Finally, the use of the TDA-AAS can be considered instead of the ICP-MS in hair analysis in order to reduce sample manipulation with minor risk of contamination, less time consuming due to the absence of the digestion step and cheaper analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-8
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Hair
  • ICP-MS
  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury
  • Neurotoxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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