Method 511 Determination of extractable trace elements

For a discussion on the nature of the extractants, see Chapter 4 'Trace element extractants'.

The method described below will use the complexing reagent DTPA (diethylene-triaminepentaacetic acid) to extract, by chelation, copper, iron, manganese and zinc (including zinc on calcareous soils); it also shows promise for monitoring cadmium, nickel and lead in soils receiving sludge appli cations. The amount of nutrient extracted will vary with extractant pH and concentration, shaking time and temperature, and soil:solution ratio. Keeping these parameters constant will enable valid comparisons with subsequent experiments or advisory tests.

The stock standard solutions may be purchased ready-made for AAS. If made in-house, then the appropriate spectroscopically pure metals, oxides or non-hydrated salts should be used, and oven-dried at 102-105°C for 1 h before weighing. To avoid significant weighing errors, at least 0.2 g of substance should be weighed. Metals and oxides should be dissolved in spec-troscopically pure grade acids. At the lower wavelengths used for some of these micronutrients (^250 nm), background absorption from molecular flame species, such as CaO, arising from compounds in the soil extracts can have an interfering effect and cause an elevation in the observed absorption. Some AAS instruments have a background correction facility (e.g. by using the Zeeman effect), and this should be used. An approximate assessment of this effect can be achieved by measuring the absorption with a spectral line close to the one being used, but one not showing an absorption for a dilute solution of that particular element (Slavin, 1968; Christian and Feldman, 1970), while keeping the sensitivity of the instrument the same. Another approach is to make up the standards in a matrix of approximately the same levels of soluble salts as found in the soil extracts. Background interference can be more troublesome with electrothermal than with flame atomizers (Fuller, 1977).


• DTPA extractant - dissolve 3.933 g DTPA in a mixture of 29.844 g TEA (triethanolamine) and 22.22 ml water; stir until dissolved. Add 2.944 g calcium chloride (CaCl2.2H2O) to 1.1 l of water, and when dissolved, add to the DTPA/TEA solution and make up to about 1.9 l with water. Adjust the pH to 7.3 using hydrochloric acid (approximately 36% m/m HCl) and make up to 2 l.

• Releasing agent - dissolve 2.68 g lanthanum chloride heptahydrate (LaCl3.7H2O) in water and make up to 100 ml.

• Stock standard solutions, 1 mg ml-1 of the metal - purchase or make up as appropriate.

• Working standard solutions - dilute 5 ml of the stock standard solutions to 500 ml with DTPA extractant to give intermediate standards of 10 pg ml-1 of the metal. Prepare a range of standards in DTPA extractant for each metal. Suggested values are: cadmium, 0, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4 and 0.5 pg Cd ml-1; copper, lead or manganese, 0, 1.0, 2.0, 4.0, 6.0 and 8.0 pg Cu, Pb or Mn ml-1; iron, 0, 2.0, 5.0, 10.0, 15.0 and 20.0 pg Fe ml-1; nickel, 0, 0.2, 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 pg Ni ml-1; zinc, 0, 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 pg Zn ml-1.

Procedure. Weigh 10 g air-dry soil, sieved to 2 mm (10 mesh) using a stainless steel sieve into a 175-ml square HDPE (e.g. Nalgene) plastic screw-cap bottle. Add 20 ml of the DTPA extractant and shake on a reciprocating shaker (275 oscillations of 25 mm length per minute, or similar, but keep constant for all extractions) for 2 h. Carry out a blank extraction. Filter through a Whatman No. 42 filter paper, rejecting the first couple of millilitres, into a polythene hinged-cap sample tube. Pipette 10 ml of filtrate and standards into 25-ml beakers and add 0.5 ml releasing agent to each and mix. They are analysed for the required trace elements by atomic absorption spectroscopy using a suitable range of standards made up in the DTPA extractant. Samples may be diluted with DTPA extractant to reduce excessively high readings to the normal range of the instrument. The wavelengths (nm) of the most sensitive resonance lines for AAS are as follows: Cd, 228.8; Cu, 324.8; Fe, 248.3; Pb, 217.0; Mn, 279.5; Ni, 232.0 and Zn, 213.9.

Calculation. The concentration of trace element (pg ml-1) in the extract is read from the standard curve and the blank reading subtracted; the difference is multiplied by 2 to give the pg g-1 (= mg kg-1) of the trace element in the air-dry soil. Include any extra dilution factors, and, if required, convert to oven-dry soil using the appropriate factor, as in Method 5.2, Calculation (2).

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