Substituting HF by HBF4 – an optimized digestion method for multi-elemental sediment analysis via ICP-MS/MS


Determination of elemental mass fractions in sediments plays a major role in evaluating the environmental status of aquatic ecosystems. Herewith, the optimization of a new total digestion protocol and the subsequent analysis of 48 elements in different sediment reference materials (NIST SRM 2702, GBW 07313, GBW 07311 and JMC-2) based on ICP-MS/MS detection is presented. The developed method applies microwave acid digestion and utilizes HBF4 as fluoride source for silicate decomposition. Similar to established protocols based on HF, HBF4 ensures the dissolution of the silicate matrix, as well as other refractory oxides. As HBF4 is not acutely toxic; no special precautions have to be made and digests can be directly measured via ICP-MS without specific sample inlet systems, evaporation steps or the addition of e.g. H3BO3, in order to mask excess HF. Different acid mixtures with and without HBF4 were evaluated in terms of digestion efficiency based on the trace metal recovery. The optimized protocol (5 mL HNO3, 2 mL HCL, 1 mL HBF4) allows a complete dissolution of the analyzed reference materials, as well as quantitative recoveries for a wide variety of certified analytes. Low recoveries for e.g. Sr, Ba and rare earth elements due to fluoride precipitation of HF-based digestions protocols, can be avoided by the usage of HBF4 instead. Based on the usage of high purity HBF4 all relevant trace, as well as matrix elements can be analyzed with sufficiently low LOQs (0.002 μg L−1 for U up to 6.7 μg L−1 for Al). In total, 34 elements were within a recovery range of 80%–120% for all three analyzed reference materials GBW 07313, GBW 07311 and JMC-2. 14 elements were outside a recovery range of 80%–120% for at least one of the analyzed reference materials.
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