Concerns about quadrupole ICP-MS lead isotopic data and interpretations in the environment and health fields

Brian Gulson*, George D. Kamenov, William Manton, Michael Rabinowitz

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)
    22 Downloads (Pure)


    There has been a massive increase in recent years of the use of lead (Pb) isotopes in attempts to better understand sources and pathways of Pb in the environment and in man or experimental animals. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where the quality of the isotopic data, especially that obtained by quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (Q-ICP-MS), are questionable, resulting in questionable identification of potential sources, which, in turn, impacts study interpretation and conclusions. We present several cases where the isotopic data have compromised interpretation because of the use of only the major isotopes (208)pb/(206)pb and (207)pb/(206)pb, or their graphing in other combinations. We also present some examples comparing high precision data from thermal ionization (TIMS) or multi-collector plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS) to illustrate the deficiency in the Q-ICP-MS data. In addition, we present cases where Pb isotopic ratios measured on Q-ICP-MS are virtually impossible for terrestrial samples. We also evaluate the Pb isotopic data for rat studies, which had concluded that Pb isotopic fractionation occurs between different organs and suggest that this notion of biological fractionation of Pb as an explanation for isotopic differences is not valid. Overall, the brief review of these case studies shows that Q-ICP-MS as commonly practiced is not a suitable technique for precise and accurate Pb isotopic analysis in the environment and health fields.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number723
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • lead isotopes
    • ICP-MS
    • TIMS
    • MC-ICP-MS
    • environment
    • humans
    • rats
    • fractionation


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