American Journal of Analyt ical Chemistry, 2011, 2, 27-45
doi:10.4236/ajac.2011.21004 Published Online February 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Arsenic Speciation Analysis by Ion Chromatography
- A Critical Review of Principles and Applications
Adrian A. Ammann
EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland
Received August 1, 2010; revised January 6 2011; accepted January 10, 2011
Multiple acute and chronic toxicity of arsenic species and its mobilisation from geological deposits into
ground and drinking water resources are one of the greatest threats to human health. Arsenic speciation
analysis, mostly done by liquid chromatography, is a challenging task which requires an intense high quality
work with respect to extraction, preservation, separation, detection and validation. A growing number of
As-species and low regulatory limits (10 μg/L) may require more than one speciation method preferably
performed by species specific procedures and detectors. Beside As-fractionation for special application there
are many selective speciation methods based on high performance separation techniques like capillary elec-
trophoreses, gas and liquid chromatography. Both, fractionation and speciation methods are reviewed. How-
ever, the focus is on scopes and limits of ion chromatographic separations, the most frequently used methods.
Based on IC-principles the methods applied are critically discussed and recommendations given which
should result in more robust and reliable As-speciation.
Keywords: Review, Arsenic Speciation, Ion Chromatography
1. Introduction
Accumulating evidence on multiple toxicity aspects [1]
including mutagenic, teratogenic and general genotoxic
[2,3] and neurotoxicity [4] effects of several arsenic spe-
cies curbed down regulatory limits to 10 μg/L As (WHO,
US-EPA) in drinking water. Considering chronic toxico-
logical effects in combination with As-mobilisation from
geological deposits into ground water [5], an essential
source of drinking water, As is likely to pose one of the
greatest threat to human health worldwide. Since years
this is reality for up to 100 million people in India [6],
Bangladesh [7,8], Vietnam [9,10], Cambodia [11] and
other places on the world [1]. Fears have been expressed
[12] that this is only the visible tip of the iceberg. These
intensified As-problems initiated many investigations to
reassess the mobilisation, transformation and toxicity of
even low concentrated As-species.
Among oxyanion-forming elements, As shows a unique
mobilisation [5] over the pH-range of natural waters un-
der both oxidising and reducing conditions. Inorganic
redox species arsenite (AsIII) and arsenate (AsV) are far
the most abundant and the most toxic species in envi-
ronmental waters. In biologically mediated transforma-
tions these species are converted into numerous organic
As-species [13,14]. All As-related problems like toxicity,
adsorption and transport, biogeochemical cycling and
treatment of drinking water depend on As speciation.
For several reasons As speciation remains a challeng-
ing task which requires a lot of high quality speciation
work: the toxicity of many As-species is not jet eluci-
dated and often a single separation procedure is not reli-
able since most toxic species can be interfered by
As-species of much lower toxicity [15]. Arsenic has a
unique rich chemistry [16] with a huge number of or-
ganic As-species [17] reflecting the capability of this
element to adapt to almost any condition. On the other
hand, investigations addressing a large number of species
are inevitably forced to reduce costs. However, cost re-
duction can become so dominant that it restricts the
number of questions which can be answered, or worse,
narrowing it to what can be achieved by the lowest cost
procedure which is unable to answer important open
questions. Another difficulty is that the separation pro-
cedure has to be adapted to the species preservation or
vice versa. But, what is the best preservation during
storage and separation? It depends on the matrix and the
As-species present. However, if the latter are not com-
pletely known one finds itself in a real speciation di-
Previous reviews provide a helpful orientation by em-
phasizing different aspects in As-speciation. An over
view on recent reviews can be found in [18]. Francesconi
et al. [19] gave short synopsis and characterisations of all
the different methods in a broad (450 references) and
comprehensive coverage. The nomenclature given there
is followed in this review and listed in Table 1 together
with other abbreviations. The chemistry of As-species in
the aquatic environment was extensively reviewed [20]
just recently. B’Hymer et al. [21] focused on the role of
HPLC coupled to ICP MS. Analytical methods for inor-
ganic As have been reviewed by Hung et al. [22] and
Table 1. Names and abbreviations of chemicalsa.
Abbrev. Names Formula
AsIII Arsenite (arsenous acid) As(OH)3
AsV Arsenate (arsenic acid) AsO(OH)3
AB Arsenobetaine (CH3)3As+CH2COO-
AC Arsenocholine (CH3)3As+(CH2)2OH
DMA Dimethylarsinic acid (CH3)2AsO(OH)
MMA Monomethylarsonic acid CH3AsO(OH)2
TETRA Tetramethylarsonium ion (CH3)4As+
TMAO Trimethylarsineoxide (CH3)3AsO
p-ASA p-Aminobenzenearsonic acid p-NH2C6H4OAs(OH)2
p-PSA 4-Hydroxybenzenearsonic a. p-OHC6H4OAs(OH)2
Rox 4-HO-3-nitrophenylarsonic a. OHNO2C6H3OAs(OH)2
AcO Acetate CH3COOH
BDSA Benzene-1,2-disulfonic acid C6H4(SO3)22-
Cit Citric acid (CH2COOH)2COHCOOH
DL Detection limit
EDTA Ethylenediaminetetraacetate ((-OOCCH2)2N)2(CH2)2
HSA Hexanesulfonic acid CH3(CH2)5SO3H
PS-DVB Polystyrene-divinylbezene
SDS Sodiumdodecylsulfate CH3(CH2)11OSO3H
Tart Tartrate (CH2)2(COO-)2
TBA Tertrabutylammonium (C4H9)4N+
TRIS Tris (hydroxymethyl)
amino-methan (HOCH2)3CNH2
a) The nomenclature follows the recommendations given by Francesconi et al.
voltammetric methods for the same purpose just recently
by Mays et al. [23].
For a toxicity assessment, ionic As-oxo-species are far
more decisive than others and hence ion chromatography
(IC) the most often applied method. In this review ad-
vantages and shortcomings of specific IC procedures are
critically discussed, rather than completely covering in
details all the numerous As-speciation methods.
2. Methods for As Speciation
Arsenic speciation analysis can be categorized according
to the speciation definition given by IUPAC [24] which
is based on selectivity and specificity. Methods which
inherently cannot differentiate among chemical species
are named fractionation and those with a higher or tune-
able resolution are called speciation methods. Following
this definition, distinctions like AsIII and AsV, inorganic
and organic or smaller and larger size belongs to frac-
tionation since each of this categories consists of several
chemical species which are indistinguishable by such
methods. So chromatographic separations, except size
exclusion (SEC), are considered speciation methods
since they can be tuned or used in combinations [25] to
separate essentially all chemical species.
A successful speciation requires not only an accurate
species determination but also to be in an optimal accor-
dance with the sample treatment (extraction, preserva-
tion). Because many speciation methods are based on
IC-principles, particular attention is paid to IC-methods
and their applications.
2.1. Arsenic Fractionations
2.1.1. Inorganic AsIII/AsV Fractionation
The fact that the two most toxic As-compounds are the
inorganic AsIII and AsV justify this fractionation for
samples influenced by pure geochemical processes (e.g.
groundwater) where no or very minor fraction of organic
arsenicals occur. The hydride generation, oxidation state
selective fractionation, makes use of the ease As-com-
pounds form hydrides under different conditions: AsIII
reacts at slightly acidic pH (6) with borohydrides whereas
AsV-arsenicals require pH 1 or a pre-reduction, e.g. by
thiols (cysteine [26,27], thioglycolic acid [28]). However,
organic arsenicals can require harsh oxidation conditions
(HNO3/HClO 4/H 2SO4 at 300˚C) for decomposing, espe-
cially AC and AB are the most recalcitrant [29]. Once
formed, As-hydrides are volatile and easily separable
from the matrix by gas liquid separators or gas diffusion
[30]. After this step, they can be diverted directly to a
detector or cryo-trapped, pre-concentrated and selectively
evaporated in the sequence of their boiling points [31].
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
In-situ AsIII/AsV fractionation can also be obtained
by very sensitive electrochemical methods (20 ng/L
[32,33]) which are continuously developed [23]. By ex-
clusively measuring AsIII at natural sample pH 7-8 and
AsIII + AsV in an acidified (pH 1) sample aliquot, AsV
is assigned to the difference of the two AsIII measure-
ment [32].
2.1.2. Extraction and Preservation Procedures
The time between sampling and analysis often requires a
preservation which has not only to be reliable but also
compatible with the subsequent speciation method,
which is often a difficult task. Species extraction from
difficult matrices (soil, sediments, food) can alter the
As-speciation and pose a problem for separation proce-
Most extraction procedures have to be considered as
fractionation because of the inherent difficulty to extract
completely all species [34-37] by a single procedure. The
widespread use of one single extraction method only
inspired others to define a new class of “hidden species”
[38,39]. Even in case of a hypothetical 100% recovery of
each species, inherent procedural species instabilities can
cause a shift in species ratio which is difficult to prevent
(e.g. instabilities of the oxidation states [14,40], or the
thio vs oxo-form [41-43]). A control might be possible
for a limited set of As-species as they occur in certified
reference materials [44,45], despite total As only is certi-
fied in the material.
A variety of extraction procedure have been developed
and optimized for several matrices: terrestrial plants
[46-48], algae and aquatic plants [49], soils [50-52], food
[52] and microwave-assisted extraction from soil [53]
and vegetables [54,55]. Solvent extraction (SE) are now
investigated with a high enrichment factor (115) [56],
ultrasound assisted [57,58] and microwave assisted SE
[59], solid phase micro-extraction [60-64].
For the stabilization of As-species low temperatures
were sufficient, e.g. freezing (liquid N2) for clinical sam-
ples [65] and 16˚ for algae extracts [66]. Moreover,
diverse additives have been proposed: methanol [52],
mineral acids like HCl [67-69] and phosphoric acid [52],
phosphoric acid in combination with cooling (6˚) [70,71],
chelators like EDTA [72-74] against metal precipitation.
Some of these preservation procedures have been com-
pared [40,69] using the same set of samples. Low tem-
peratures in combination with preservatives which ac-
count for matrix particularities are most effective.
2.1.3. Specialized Fractionation Procedures
In recent years, there has been some progress in isolating
special As-fractions like bio-available, volatile or size
fractions, exclusively defined by the procedure applied.
A bio-available fraction has been obtained extracting
seafood continuously by synthetic body-fluids (saliva,
stomach- and gastric juice) [75] and by an in vivo assay
[76]. Capture of volatile As-species is indispensable for a
total As-balance in a dumpsite [77] or in biogas [78].
Biological samples are often fractionated on a size ex-
clusion column to isolate as much as possible As-species
in one run from the complex matrix. This can serve as a
cleaning step for further chromatographic speciation [79].
SEC was useful in detecting thioarsenicals as As-phyto-
chelatins from plants [80] and methylated thio-arsenicals
in urine [81].
2.2. Sensors and Field Tests
In a large area with a high number of sampling sites it
gets impractical to collect and transfer samples to a
laboratory. It is more convenient to perform analysis or
tests on site in the field and evaluate critical samples
only in the laboratory. However, the recommended limit
for As (10 ppb (μg/L)) is a very tough hurdle for a sensor
or field test which usually operate with compromised
detection limits, accuracy and precision in favour of low
cost portable instrumentation [82] or test kits [83,84]. If
hundreds of volunteers are required, simple and fast test
kits are indispensible which can be easily handled by
non-scientific staff. Such a screening fulfils a different
purpose that is to provide approximate concentrations
allowing a sample classification and splitting (below,
around and above a limit) for a reduced workload. De-
tailed requirements and the chemistry applied by field
test were discussed and reviewed [85,86]. Biological-
based assays have been developed and are reviewed in
[87]. Microelectronic sensing of the biological response
to arsenicals [88] has a not yet exploited potential.
2.3. As-Speciation Using IC Methods
2.3.1. Detectors in As-Speciation
The method sensitivity has not only a decisive influence
on which samples (concentrations) can be analyzed or
which method has to be chosen to analyze envisaged
species in given samples (concentrations), but the per-
formance and the complexity of the method too depend
on the sensitivity. E.g. lower sensitivity detectors require
sample clean up procedures and pre-concentrations steps
which in turn increase the labour load and the possibility
of speciation alterations. In chromatography, the detector
sensitivity is linked to the chromatographic performance
as a more sensitive detector allows sample dilution or
larger dilution factors. More diluted samples can show
less severe matrix interference, thus enabling a more
robust procedure.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Sensitivity and providing species specific information
are the two main abilities detectors meet As-speciation
demands. Detectors which are sensitive to only a small
number of species require that other species must be
chemically transformed in high recovery prior to detec-
tion which can cause problems. Bulkiness and costs are
other important properties. The smaller, less sensitive
and less expensive detectors like UV, conductivity and
chemiluminescence [30] are not As-specific and not sen-
sitive enough, whereas the more demanding (cost and
space) are more sensitive and deliver species specific
data. Among the specific detectors there are atomic fluo-
rescence (AFS) and electrochemical instruments which
can be applied to a few As-species only. Volatile hy-
drides are required for detection by AFS [58,89-91] and
only inorganic AsIII [92,93], or AsIII/AsV [32] by elec-
trochemistry. Element-specific detectors like atomic ab-
sorption (AAS) and optical emission (OES) traditionally
used to determine total element concentrations provided
a first generation of universal As-species detectors.
However, sensitivity requirements in As-speciation can
bee roughly 1-2 order of magnitude more demanding
compared to total element determinations since the ele-
ment is distributed on several species and many of them
have to be separated and detected individually. Element
mass spectrometers (MS) extend the detection limit (DL)
noticeably. Simple quadrupole ICP MS are the most
widely used detectors in general trace element speciation
analysis [94-96] as well as in arsenic speciation [21]
since they are versatile and the most sensitive instru-
ments [97]. The same is valid for a high resolution (HR)
ICP MS except that its sensitivity is at least 10 times
better [98]. The particular advantages of plasma source
MS have been pointed out in [21,97,99].
Organic MS, detecting molecules and molecule frag-
ments, responded to research and validation needs for
more information and proof of the species structure [97].
The advantages and the limitations of various detectors
and their couplings to different separation methods are
discussed in [100,101]. Considerable evidence in reliable
structural assignment was obtained by divers molecule
and fragment ionisation MS techniques [100,102] and by
x-ray absorption [103] that gives information on As-
bonding in the solid state [104-107] which can eliminate
artifacts generating extraction steps.
2.3.2. Selective Separation Methods
A sensitive As-specific detector coupled to a sufficiently
selective separation method is the heart-piece in As-
speciation [108-110]. In most cases a traditional high
performance separation technique such as gas chroma-
tography (GC), capillary zone electrophoresis (CE), sev-
eral liquid chromatographic (LC) methods like ion ex-
change chromatography (IEC) and ion pair chromatog-
raphy (IPC) on reversed phase HPLC columns are linked
to diverse detectors according to the analytical task.
Volatile arsenicals found under natural conditions were
separated highly efficient by GC. Arsenolipids were de-
termined in fish oil [111]. Several mixed arsenosulfur
compounds which were produced by intestinal micro-
organisms [112] were analyzed. Typically, volatile ar-
senicals are produced in derivatization steps like hydride
generation [113,114] and methyl thioglycolate deriva-
tives were extracted into hexane and determined by GC
atomic emission [115]. With respect to the growing
number of volatile arsenicals, GC remains an important
separation method as reviewed in [116]. However, many
naturally occurring arsenicals are not volatile and not
stabile at the temperature required to keep them in the
gas phase. For these compounds liquid separation meth-
ods like CE and LC are better suited.
High separation efficiencies made CE an attractive
method [97]. However, its low amount of analyte mass
applied in combination with low sensitivity detectors
provides insufficient DL. For the most common As-spe-
cies, DL of 5-17 μg/L were reached [117], detecting with
a high sensitivity UV-cell and high sample volume
stacking. In situ heteropolyacid formation with molyb-
date and UV-detection gave similar DL [118]. Without
sensitivity enhancement in UV-detection, DL between
0.1 and 1.2 mg/L have been reported [119] in aqueous
soil extracts. UV detection was 103-104 times less sensi-
tive compared with ESI MS [120] and with ICP MS
[121]. CE coupled to more sensitive detectors requires
special interfaces and attention to some particular issues
[122,123]. With ICP MS, DL of 0.04 μg/L have been
reported [124]. Comparing CE and IEC both coupled to
the same HR ICP MS gave 100 times higher DL with CE
HPLC and Ion Chromatography. The most often en-
countered As-species cover the whole range of molecule
polarities, e.g. anions (AsV, MMA, DMA), cations (AC,
TMA) and, depending on the pH, neutral molecules (AB,
AsIII) [126]. The diverse polarities, the growing number
and the different types of As-compounds are a permanent
challenge to IC. The method should be robust in routine
speciation analysis, provide lowest DL, and separate as
many as possible of diverse As-species. Strategies for
arsenic speciation analysis have been presented by Lar-
sen [126] and Feldmann et al. [13].
As the most toxic As-species are ionic, the over-
whelming part in As-speciation is done by IC. IC-me-
thods were previously reviewed, but IC principles and
their role within the whole context of As-speciation
(species stability and preservation, on column stability,
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
detector compatibility and variable selectivity) has not
been critically discussed, making it difficult for non-
experts to gain a comprehensive understanding. This
review is intended to better clarify the role of IC in
As-speciation and to highlight improved procedures. The
different types of IC methods [127], e.g. anion exchange
(AEX), cation exchange (CEX), ion exclusion (IEC), ion
pair chromatography (IPC) and combinations there of are
potentially suitable for As-speciation and are discussed
The affinity of an analyte ion towards an ion ex-
changer depends on the charge density and the polariza-
bility of the two opposite charges. For a given exchanger
material, the ion density is given by the number of ex-
change sites per material mass (capacity) and the po-
larizability is similar among columns functionalized by
the same ionic groups. So far, R4N+, SO3
-, RCOO- were
most often used as ion exchanging groups [127,128]. The
analytes charge density and polarizability depends on the
molecule size and the charge which is often controlled by
a proton association-dissociation equilibrium. The pKa of
arsenicals are spread over a large range, but many of
them are pKa > 8 [129]. Hence, their negative charge
depends on the pH and the same is valid for protonable
or deprotonable column exchange sites. All these vari-
ables are controlled by the eluent-pH which becomes the
master variable. Unfortunately, the pH of the frequently
used eluents (see below) cannot be freely adjusted to the
As-species pKa to tune their retention behaviour and im-
prove the selectivity of the method [130]. The pH is
rather dictated by the column capacity that requires an
equivalent eluent concentration to reach the eluent
strength that can elute species. With such eluents, there is
no other choice than to perform the separation at a fixed
value or, in case of acids and bases, even at an extreme
pH (< 3 or > 9) where many As-compounds are not sta-
bile. Such extreme eluent-pH practically excludes silica-
based columns, so separations are usually done with
synthetic columns. On organic polymers, ion exchange
can be combined with hydrophobic interaction on the
column core material, aiding in retention of neutral As-
Adjusting the analyte charge density by the eluent pH
can be best realized by AEX [126]. In the beginning of
ion exchange development it was found [131] that AEX
separated common As-species whereas CEX did not re-
tain the two most toxic and most common species, AsIII
and AsV, but eluting them together in the front. This has
been confirmed in many follow-up comparisons. A re-
cently developed CEX gradient separation (0-20 mM
+NH4, pH = 2.5 [77]) on a PRP-X200 column improved
the separation somewhat, but again confirmed the prob-
lems by eluting AsIII, MMA, AsV and Cl- (interfering as
40Ar35Cl+ on 75As+-detection by ICP MS [132]) within 3
min in the front and co-eluting AC with TAMO at 15
min. A more promising CEX, just recently published
[133], uses acidified (HCOOH) acetonitrile.
Therefore AEX is recommended [13,134] as the pri-
mary separation and, if required, CEX as a secondary
option to separate the less toxic organic cationic arsenic-
als not resolved on an anion exchanger. This can be
achieved by a dual mode method, which consists on one
hand of an additionally applied CEX procedure (as two
columns two procedures [13] or as two columns in series
in one procedure [135,136]). On the other hand, a mixed
mode ion exchanger (mostly AS7 column,) can be used,
containing both, anionic and cationic exchange sites
[127]. In many cases, AEX, single or mixed mode, suffi-
ciently separates a restricted number of cationic arsenic-
als, making a separate CEX-run obsolete.
Ion Pair Chromatography [137]. In IPC a simple re-
versed phase column is dynamically coated by a lipo-
philic counter ion in the eluent. While this is an attractive
access to IC without purchasing additional expensive
covalently functionalised columns, problems arise by the
dynamic exchange capacity which depends on the sam-
ple matrix. Results obtained by this technique until 2002
were reviewed in [134] and an overview is given in Ta-
ble 2. The dynamic in-situ coating in AEX was com-
pared to permanent bound exchanger sites. The latter
method [138] gave better results because of the higher
and more stabile exchange capacity. The dynamic coat-
ing can easily be disrupted by matrix components [139],
e.g. salts and surface active organics of unknown con-
centrations. It was also demonstrated that the concentra-
tion of the ion pair reagent is very critical, a slight excess
can reduce the selectivity substantially [140] and a cal-
culation assisted method optimization found no ion pair-
ing effect at all [59]. Nevertheless, it has been shown that
a dynamic ion pair coating withstanding the coat dis-
rupting ability of the sample matrix and an accurately
developed method can result in robust and unique sepa-
ration conditions [141]. Ion pairing reagents can also
strongly increase the separation efficiency of AEX (see
Anion Exchange Chromatography. AEX separations are
done almost exclusively on higher capacity, highly hy-
drophobic synthetic columns from several manufacturers
(Table 3-5) and with eluents which severely restrict the
eluent-pH. Accordingly, three types of restrictions can be
distinguished for the following discussion: 1) a strong
acidic HNO3-eluent at two isocratic steps (pH < 3) mostly
on a mixed-mode anion-cation exchanger AS7 (Table 3),
2) Strongly basic eluents like carbonate or hydroxide (pH
> 8.5) on diverse columns (Table 4) and 3) phosphate
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Table 2. Ion pair chromatographic separations.
IP reagent
(pH) Modifier Matrix As speciesa
(tR, min)
(DL, μg/L) Comment Ref.
anion pairing
TBAOH (5) H2O (6.0) 4% MeOH AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA
AsV (12.5) ICP MS (3) matrix interf. [139]
TBAPO4 (2.5) H2O (5.2) AsIII, AB, AC, DMA,
MMA AsV (8.0) HG AAS (100) AB, AC
coelute [157]
TBAPO4 (10) PO4 20 mM (6.0) AsIII, DMA, MMA AsV
(9.0) HG AAS (100) [172]
TBAOH (5) H2O (6.2) wine, kelp
(1.7), pPSA,
ICP MS (0.7) narrow bore
HPLC [140]
TBAOH (13) H2O (5.8) 1.3% MeOH urine AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA
AsV (6.4) ICP MS (0.2) [173]
TBAPO4 (5) H2O (5.9) AsIII, DMA, MMA AsV
(8), pASA ICP MS (4) nano HPLC [174]
TBAOH (5) PO4 SO4 (6.0)
urine, plant
extract, river
(6.2) 4 Se-comp. ICP MS (0.02) simult. As and
Se - speciation[141]
cation pairing
SDS (10) H2O (2.5) 5% MeOH 5
2.5% AcOH fish tissue AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA
AsV (12.5) ICP MS (3) [139]
HSA (10) 40 mM Cit (2.3) 2-12% MeOH
gradient apple extr. AsV (1.8) AsIII, MMA,
coelute [175]
a) The elution sequence is given.
Table 3. Anion exchange with eluents restricted to low pH (HNO3).
HNO3 steps Modifier Matrix As speciesc
(DL, μg/L) Comment Ref.
AS7 (125) 0.5, 50 0.05 BDSA AsIII, DMA, AsV, AB, AC,ICP MS (0.5) [142] [143] [176]
AS7 (125) 0.5, 50 0.05 BDSA plant extract [177]
AS7 (125) 0.5, 50 0.05 BDSA oyster, rice,
algae 17 arsenicals ICP MS
(0.01-0.05) AB & Cl- coelute [145] [146]
AS7 (125) 2.5, 50 non poultry waste AsIII, MMA, AsV, DMA,
(0.02) [144]
AS7 (125) 0.5, 50 1% MeOH seafood extr. AsIII, MMA, DMA, AsV
(6), AB, AC
se.optimization [59]
AS4 (25) 0.4, 50 non algae extract AsIII, MMA, DMA, AsV
(6), AB, AC
better without
modif. [178]
a) Manufacturer of AS7 and AS4: Dionex. b) Step concentrations in mM. c) Elution sequence is given.
eluents of various composition and pH on different col-
umns (Table 5). Separations based on these procedures
have been compared [72] to a field speciation method
using more than 100 surface waters, ground waters, and
acid mine drainage samples. Alternatively, the advan-
tages of non pH restricting eluents (see Table 6) are dis-
cussed. In some work, organic anions were used as elu-
ent ions which produce a high carbon load to ICP detec-
tors. In low concentrations and as polycarboxylates they
play a role as ionic strength modifier.
Strong acidic eluents on the mixed mode exchanger
AS7 were often used (compare Table 4) to separate ani-
onic, cationic and neutral As-species [142]. The high hy-
drophobic nature of the exchange sites provided addi-
tional selectivity in conjunction with an ion pair reagent
[143] and methanol [144]. The strongly acidic BDSA,
which is anionic at low pH (pKa1 < 1), was so far the
most beneficial one. It interacts better with the positively
charged As-centre than with the positive charges on the
column, forming more negatively charged ion pairs with
neutral or positive arsenicals [143]. Best separation is
achieved by eluting at two isocratic nitric acid concentra-
Table 4. Anion exchange with eluents restricted to high pH (HO, CO3
Eluent mM
(pH) Modifier Matrix As speciesb
(tR, min)
(DL, μg/L) Comment Ref.
IC AN2 2
HCO3- 25 (9.25)
CO32- 100 (10.25) - soil extractsAB, AC, TMA, DMA, AsIII,
coelute [138]
ICPakA HC 1 CO32- 2.5 (10.25) - AB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV,
AC ICP MS (0.1) dual column
system [135]
IC AN2 CO32- 50 (10.3) - groundwaterAB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV
(8) ICP MS (0.2) 60˚ [126]
AS11 (56) 3 NaOH 30 1% MeOH sediment AsIII, AsV (3.5) HG AAS (1) [152]
AS11 (56) NaOH 0-40 - urine AB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV
not sep.
AS14 (80) 3 NH4HCO3 2 (8.2)
Tart 2 or 45 - AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV ICP MS (0.5) Se-species [156]
AS9HC (237)3 Na2CO3 5-70 (12) - food stuff
extracts AB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsVICP MS (0.3) AsIII is
oxidised [149]
AS16 (174) 3 NaOH 30, 50
(12.7) 1% MeOH poultry wasteDMA, AsIII, MMA, p-ASA,
AsV (6.6), Rox(9.2) ICP MS (0.02) [144]
AS16 (174) 3 NaOH 1.5-55 - groundwatersAsV(26) suppr. conduct. other
oxyanions [153]
PRP X100 4
NH4HCO3 15-50
(8.5) - lobster tissue
MMA(17), AsV (25) ICP MS [154]
AS9HC (237) 3 Na2CO3 3, 70 (12) soil water AB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV
(0.01) spilt 1:10 [125]
AS7 (125) 3 NH4CO3 0-25 (10) algae extr. DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV (30)ICP MS (0.01) [179]
As11 (56) 3 NaOH 0-40 (12.6) urine AB, DMA, AsIII, MMA, AsV
(7.2) ICP MS (0.02) [155]
PRP X100 NH4CO3 20 (9.0) molluscs thio As-sugars [180]
PRP X100 NH4CO3 20 (10) 50 As-species ESI SRM
MSMS (0.02) [17]
PRP X100 NH4CO3 10-50 (9)2% MeOH urine, fish AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV
(0.01) Se-compounds [181]
a) Manufacturer (1-4): 1 Waters (polymetacrylat), 2 Merck, 3 Dionex (PS-DVB), 4 Hamilton (PS-DVB). b) Elution sequence is given. ESI SRM MSMS: elec-
trospray ionisation selected reaction monitoring tandem MS. DRC: dynamic reaction cell.
tion (0.5 and at 50 mmol/L (pH 3.4 and 1.3 resp.), but a
gradient is not successful. The procedure [145,146] was
developed to a high resolution IC method. A concentra-
tion gradient of the ion pairing reagent, however, re-
sulted in irreproducible retention times (tR) of all ana-
lytes [143] and methanol in the sample can cause differ-
ent response for As-species [146]. Surprisingly, inde-
pendent work [59,147] reported that the BDSA-con-
centration has no influence on the separation. With re-
spect to metal precipitation on the column, such an acidic
eluent was considered preferable because it keeps metals
in solution and continuously removes metals from the
column. However, on column deposition of matrix com-
ponents and loss of chromatographic performance after a
few sample injections have been reported [143] for
HNO3 eluents as well. The aggressive and oxidising ni-
tric acid significantly reduces the lifetime of organic
polymeric column material. While the procedure is per-
fectly compatible with the sample introduction and the
plasma of an ICP instrument, it is not compatible with
sample preservation procedure and on column stabilities
of sensitive As-compounds. Oxidation of AsIII to AsV in
nitric acid preserved samples [40] and large differences
in species concentrations compared to other IC methods
[144] have been observed. The oxidation was found to be
catalysed by metals [148] and mediated too by light [69].
High pH eluents substantially increase the dissociation
of protonated As-species and increase their affinity for
the anion exchanger. The advantages of this type of AEX
were discussed by Larson [126]. Under oxic basic condi-
tions oxidation of AsIII to AsV is fast and was reported
to occur during chromatography [40,144,149,150]. This
method seems to be suited for NaOH extracted soil sam-
ples, to perform the separation without adjusting the
sample pH. Beside K2SO4 (10 mmol/L, pH 10.2) [151],
hydroxide and carbonate containing eluents have widely
been used on a variety of polymeric anion exchanger
columns (see Table 4). The higher the column capacity
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Table 5. Anion exchange with eluents restricted to medium pH values (PO4, org. acids).
(capacity μeqv.)
mM (pH) Modifier Matrix As speciesb
(tR, min)
(DL, μg/L) Comment Ref.
Anion HC 1
NH4PO4 0-10
(5.8) - soil extract AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV (11)HG ICP OES gradient [57]
sphere 1
NH4PO4 15
30% MeOH 5
mM AcO urine AsIII, DMA, MMA,
AsV (9) ICP MS (0.2) AsIII & Cl-
coelute [159]
PRP X100 2
(190) NaPO4 16 (7) 5% MeOH AsIII, DMA, MMA,
AsV (8) ICP MS (2) [139]
PRP X100
(190) NaPO4 12 (6) - groundwater
sedim. extr.
AsV (9) HG AAS (20) on line MW
digestion [157]
PRP X100
NaPO4 12 (7)
TRIS 30-100 (7)
tap water
tap water
AsV (9.1)
same, AsV (12)
ICP MS (0.3)
ICP MS (0.06)
PRP X100
(190) NH4PO4 10 (8.5)30 mM B(OH)3 food extracts AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV
(10), As-sugars HG ICP MS [182]
LC-18 3
NaPO4 20 (6.0)
PO4 30 (4.5)
10 mM TBA
human serum
human serum
AsV (10) HG AAS (0.5) not suitable
LC-SAX NH4PO4 20 (3.9)1% MeOH water
(6), MMA (7)
TN (0.1) [183]
LC-SAX1 3 NH4PO4 5-25 (6)- algae As-sugars, AsIII, AB, DMA,
MMA, AsV (19) ICP MS [184]
PRP X100 (190) NH4PO4 15
Na2SO4 15 (5.9)- groundwater AsIII, AsV (4) HG AAS (6) off
line [185]
AS14 (80) 4 NaPO4 2 10 (7.2)1% MeOH Poultry waste AsIII, DMA, MMA, p-ASA,
AsV (5.3),
(0.08) 2 steps [144]
GL IC A15 5
(40) H3PO4 4 (2.6) - urine AsIII, DMA, AB (7), MMA,
AC (21), AsV (27)
2 columns
separation [136]
G5134A (40) 6 NaPO4 2 (6) EDTA
0.2 mM water AsIII, DMA, MMA AsV (9)ICP MS
(0.07) [186]
PRP X100 (190) NH4PO4 20 (6.0)- wastewater AsIII, DMA, MMA AsV (7.3)HG AFS (1) [187]
PRP X100 (190) NH4PO4 10 (6.0)- food, sedimentAsIII, AB, DMA, MMA AsV
coelute [52]
PRP X100 (190) NH4PO4 20 (5.6)- water, plants,
sediment, AsIII, DMA, MMA AsV (10)HR ICP (0.004) AsIII, AB
coelute [163]
G5134A (40) NH4PO4 7.5 (7.9)- groundwater AsIII, AB, DMA, MMA AsV
(7.5) ICP MS (0.2) [161]
a) Manufacturer (1-6): 1 Alltech (Si-C18), 2 Hamilton, 3 Supelco (LC-SAX (Si-N+(But)3, LC-SAX1 (Si-N+(CH3)3), 4 Dionex, 5 Agilent, 6 Hitachi. HG: Hy-
dride Generation. MW: microwave. TN: thermospray nebulization.
is, the higher the eluent concentration (isocratic or gra-
dient ramp) has to be. On a low capacity AS11 short tR
were obtained applying 30 mmol/L hydroxide [152]
whereas on a AS16 column [144,153] up to 55 mmol/L
were required. Short tR (< 4 min) for AsV were reported
[138] with high isocratic carbonate concentrations, 25
mmol/L and pH = 9.25 on IC-PAK-HS or 100 mmol/L
and pH = 10.25 on IC-AN2. Carbonate up to 70 mmol/L
(pH 12) had to be applied on a AS9HC column to sepa-
rate As-species within 5 minutes [40]. The advantage of
a gradient (15-30 mmol/L) vs. isocratic (30 mmol/L) se-
paration was demonstrated [154] using NH4HCO3 pH =
8.5 on a PRP-X100 column. The gradient provided al-
most baseline separation of the cationic AC and the neu-
tral AB. However, the low eluting power of the HCO3-
anion required over 26 minutes to elute AsV from this
column. A hydroxide gradient (0-40 mM NaOH) on
AS11 was applied to separate inorganic and organic
AsIII and AsV in urine samples [155].
A low carbonate concentration (2.5 mmol/L, pH = 9.3)
was applicable on IC-PAK-A-HC (150 × 4.6 mm) seri-
ally connected to a cation exchange column [135]. Car-
bonate and hydroxide were used in combination, e.g (5
mmol/L, 20 mmol/L resp.) on AS12 column [71] and (5
mmol/L, 40 mmol/L resp.) on AS4-SC [142]. In order to
lower the pH but increase the ionic strength, inorganic
eluent anions have been combined with organic anions,
e.g. NH4HCO3 (2 mmol/L) with tartrate (2 and 40 mmol/L,
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Table 6. Anion and cation exchange with an eluent of a large pH-variability (NH4NO3).
NH4NO3 pH Matrix As speciesc
(tR, min)
(DL, μg/L) Comment Ref.
PRP-100X 20, 60 8.7 surf. water AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV (7.1),
(0.05) multielemental det.[169]
PRP-100X 4, 60 8.7
(0.3-1) [188]
PRP-100X 5, 80 8.3 env. waters AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV (7.1),
(0.03-0.04) micro IC-system [171]
AS11 (14) 0.5-70 gradient 8.3 groundwater AB, AsIII, DMA, MMA, AsV
(0.005-0.01 narrow bore system[130]
Methacrylate1 15 3 test water
AsV (7), MMA, DMA, AsIII
(10.7), AB
AsV & Cl- coelute
multimode exch. [170]
PRP-200X2 0-20 gradient 2.5 landfill leachateAsIII, MMA, AsV (4), DMA,
(0.01-0.03) [77]
a) Manufacturer as in Tables 2-5, 1 Micromass nano IC capillary, 2 Hamilton. b) Step or gradient concentrations in mM. c) Elution sequence is given.
pH = 8.2) [156]. Separations at a high pH can suffer from
metals (Mg, Ca, Al, Mn, Fe, Cu, etc) precipitating as
hydroxides providing fresh adsorbing surfaces for As-
Phosphate as an eluent anion was used since a long
time because of its particular advantages, but there are
also some shortcomings which have to be considered.
Compared to other eluents, phosphate is a real buffer
able to alter on column the pH of the injected sample to
the eluent pH. As an AsV-analogue, it plays an indis-
pensable role in displacing AsV from strong adsorbing
sites and providing optimal recoveries in chromatogra-
phy [130] or in extraction procedures [57]. Higher ca-
pacity anion exchangers (compare Table 5) required
higher eluent pH and/or high phosphate concentrations to
compete for arsenicals and elute AsV in a reasonable tR.
On the other hand, phosphorus and sulphur in the plasma
produce polymeric depositions on the cones and inside of
an ICP instrument. Therefore, procedures to reduce the
P-load to the instrument have been developed. As-species
were often transferred into volatile As-hydride and sepa-
rated from the eluent in a post column reaction [72]. Or-
ganic As-species, however, react sluggishly at room
temperature and need a particular fast on line digestion
procedure [157] to reach a comparable mass transfer
from a column effluent into the gas phase. A newly de-
veloped electrochemical hydride generation [158] might
be an alternative in-line digestion for coupling to a de-
tector. For a direct inlet into the ICP MS at 1 mL/min,
phosphate concentration should clearly be lower than 15
mmol/L since at this concentration a rapid damage of
expensive cones [159] and a drop in sensitivity due to
clogging [160] was reported. Recently it has been shown
that ammonium instead of Na-salts in the plasma pro-
duce less deposits [161]. Eluent splitting before the in-
strument inlet was used too in order to reduce the P-load.
E.g., arsenate was eluted with 20 mmol/L phosphate (pH
5.6, tR = 10 min) from a PRP-X100 column [162] and the
eluent was split before HR ICP MS detection [163]. In
cases where an eluent splitting is not an option, lower
phosphate concentrations are mandatory. On the PRP-
X100 column 12 mmol/L [157] and 10 mmol/L [52]
phosphate have been applied which eluted AsV in 12
minutes and compounds in biological samples have been
identified which strongly bind to the column and to AsIII
producing artefacts in As-species ratios [65]. In combi-
nation with poly-anionic EDTA (1 mmol/L), 2.6 mmol/L
phosphate eluted AsV in 12 minutes as well and was
splitless introduced into a HR ICP MS [164]. Just re-
cently, a phosphate gradient (0-10 mmol/L, pH = 5.8)
has been applied on a shorter (4.6 × 100), high capacity
column (~150 μequiv.), eluting AsV in 11 min [57].
Phosphate has less pH-restrictions than acids or bases
and can be applied within a middle pH-range (3-9). In
this range the charge of the phosphate eluent anion varies
(between -1 and -2) depending on the degree of deproto-
nation (pKa1 = 2.1, pKa2 = 7.2, pKa3 = 12.6). Hence, ap-
proaching pH 7, phosphate is much more ionized which
drastically increases its eluent strength. This was used to
selectively increase the tR of DMA (pKa = 6.1) while the
tR of other species remained [161]. Further deprotonation
at higher pH, however, counteracts the selectivity among
other As-species since the increased negative charge on
phosphate shortens tR of arsenicals [157,161]. This makes
the separation of the most toxic AsIII from the non toxic
AB impossible [52] as the two are separated only at a
higher eluent pH (e.g. 10.7 [157] or 8.2 [164]). The
problem was addressed by combining phosphate with
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
other eluting anions which do not change its eluting
strength with pH above seven, like EDTA [164] or SO4
Organic eluent anions were used for special separa-
tions. A steep gradient of potassium hydrogenphthalate
(0-100 mM, 0-5 min) separated organic from inorganic
arsenicals on a short column (25 mm) in less than three
minutes [165] and AsIII/AsV were separated (12.5 mM
malonate and 17.5 mM AcO pH 4.8) on another short
column (50 mm) in less than 2 minutes [72,73]. Such
short tR were also obtained on a micro column (ANX
1606AS, CETAC) with tartrate (5 mM, pH 8.5) separat-
ing AsIII and AsV [40,166]. A TRIS-buffer gradient (30-
100 mM, pH 7) on a PRP-X100 column gave a better
separation compared to phosphate [160]. Non preserved
organic eluents promote rapid bacterial growth in the
eluent [73] and on the column. However, organic carbon
eluents are not often applied since the carbon introduced
into the plasma modulates the As-ion formation by fac-
tors [167]. Unfortunately, organic and even inorganic
carbon can vary the As-response [168] detected by ICP
in an unexpected manner, particularly after chromatog-
Alternative eluents. Non buffer salts open up interest-
ing alternatives. Mostly NH4NO3 (Table 6) has been
used as fully pH-flexible and outstanding plasma com-
patible eluent. A two step method (20 mM and 60 mM
NH4NO3, pH 8.7) demonstrated these unique properties
in multi-elemental speciation [169]. This eluent was also
chosen for a reliable detection in nano multimode-IC (15
mM NH4NO3, pH 3, [170]), micro-AEX (5 mM and 80
mM NH4NO3-steps, pH 8.3, [171]) and in narrow bore
AEX (0.5-70 mM NH4NO3-gradient, pH 8.3, [130]). Up
to now, this is the only eluent used to perform the sepa-
ration around the sample pH or at any other freely se-
lectable pH since its eluent strength does not depend on
the pH. Large NH4NO3-gradients can be applied [130,
171] and independently an eluent-pH can be selected
according to the analyte protonation equilibrium for re-
tention time adjustment and selectivity optimisation [130,
169,171]. The same eluent was also applied in gradient
cation exchange separation (0-20 mM pH 2.5) of As-
species [77].
3. Conclusions
Most As-species separation was done by anion exchange,
so it is worth to look for possible optimizations of this
important technique. In trace As-species analysis by
AEX, the column capacity and the sample matrix has a
dominant influence on separation conditions. Columns
caring a lower exchange capacity and requiring lower
eluent concentrations are seldom applied despite the of-
ten deployed ICP MS is sensitive enough allowing for
sample dilution. Separating diluted samples on low ca-
pacity columns reduces the eluent load to the plasma and
the sample matrix load to the column as well, which
would be the most simple and convenient way to a more
robust chromatography.
Facing increasing evidence on As-species instabilities
and artefacts in the matrix and during separation, the
adaption of the eluent-pH close to the sample-pH is
mandatory which is just contrary to what was extensively
done in As-speciation so far. What so ever, extreme elu-
ent pH cannot be used without a rigorous control of the
species ratios over the whole analytical process. More-
over, in order to use a gradient for the separation of a
larger number of As-species and to use the eluent-pH as
an independent parameter to tune and enhance the
AEX-selectivity, the eluent-pH should be completely
independent from the eluent strength which is clearly not
the case for acids, bases and most buffer salts, their pKa
being order of magnitudes different from those of
As-species. A non-buffer eluent salt, NH4NO3, that is
known to fulfil all the requirements like best plasma
compatibility, pH-adjustable to any pH without affecting
ionic strength and high purity has rarely been used so far.
For plasma based detectors, eluent components contain-
ing carbon, phosphorus and sulphur are problematic
since they require a lot of attention due to plasma in-
compatibilities causing sensitivity variations between
injections and during a run (carbon).
These few important issues demonstrate that there is
still a potential ahead for serious improvements in As-
species analysis by AEX.
4. Acknowledgements
Thanks are due to Dr. Harald Hagendorfer (EMPA,
Switzerland) for helpful discussions.
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