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30 Years of Scientific Innovation >> Examples of our Scientific Innovations >> Inventing The Most Sensitive Heavy Metals Detection Method

Inventing The Most Sensitive Heavy Metals Detection Method

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Testing for safety in soil, water, food and pharmaceuticals

Heavy metals in foodstuffs such as fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and cereals are a serious threat to health. Exposure to even small amounts of cadmium, lead, mercury or arsenic can prove to be extremely toxic as they accumulate in the liver and other organs. Eurofins’ pioneering tests for these substances can detect the minutest traces. 

Heavy metals in the environment, in substances such as soil and water, can find their way into the food chain and pose a serious risk to consumers. The products most likely to contain these heavy metals are biological – those wholly or partly derived from biomass such as plants, trees and animals – and pharmaceuticals. Comprehensive detection of the presence of toxic materials in such products helps ensure the safety of the foodstuffs we consume and the medicines we take. By working with the latest available technology, using state-of-the-art instrumentation, and refining best practice methods, Eurofins Frontier Global Sciences has helped to pioneer some of the industry’s lowest detection limits for toxic trace metals in the environment. Operating in the cleanest-possible testing environment is paramount, and the lower the detection level, the greater the importance of avoiding contamination, even at minute levels. 

The US’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired Eurofins as its trace metals and metals speciation reference and validation laboratory, asking the Company to perform the final validation of what developed into the US EPA 1600 series methods for waters, soils/sediments and biological tissues. Today, these principles are adopted for compliance monitoring around the world.

Eurofins’ presence and expertise in numerous other sectors meant that these methods had applications in a number of markets and industries outside environmental testing, and the company has expanded the tests’ reach to dietary supplements, the food and beverage sector, and pharmaceutical products.

Furthermore, Eurofins’ work became a catalyst for both industry and the regulatory community in shaping policy in several of these areas. For example, the value of measuring metals speciation to differentiate between total arsenic and the actual most harmful or toxic forms of arsenic – such as arsenate and arsenite (or inorganic arsenic) – helped to provide the scientific means to develop policy in the food and environment sectors.

The science behind

The team was able to achieve lower detection limits through a combination of expert sample handling to greatly reduce laboratory-related contamination; training of customers to take samples to reduce environmental contamination, and additional proprietary measures to digest and/extract elements of concern which will allow the laboratory to use higher sampling sizes (which reduce detection limits) as well as minimise interferences. The laboratory uses a closed vessel high-heat pressurised digestion for both solids and liquids as well as microwave technology.