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Quantification of total element concentrations in soils using total X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (TXRF)

Towett, Erick K., Shepherd, Keith D., Cadisch, Georg
The Science of the total environment 2013 v.463-464 pp. 374-388
X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, arsenic, sampling, screening, soil, soil sampling, Germany
Total X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (TXRF) determines concentrations of major and trace elements in multiple media. We developed and tested a method for the use of TXRF for direct quantification of total element concentrations in soils using an S2 PICOFOX™ spectrometer (Bruker AXS Microanalysis GmbH, Germany). We selected 15 contrasting soil samples from across sub-Saharan Africa for element analysis to calibrate the instrument against concentrations determined using the inductively coupled plasma-mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS) standard method. A consistent underestimation of element concentrations using TXRF compared to ICP-MS reference analysis occurred, indicating that spectrometer recalibration was required. Single-element recalibration improved the TXRF spectrometer's sensitivity curve. Subsequent analysis revealed that TXRF determined total element concentrations of Al, K, Ti, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Ga accurately (model efficacy/slope close to 1:1 line, and R2>0.80) over a wide range of soil samples. Other elements that could be estimated with an acceptable precision (R2>0.60) compared with ICP-MS although generally somewhat under- or overestimated were P, Ca, As, Rb, Sr, Y, Pr, Ta and Pb. Even after recalibration, compared to ICP-MS the TXRF spectrometer produced underestimations for elements Na, Mg, Ba, Ce, Hf, La, Nd, W and Sm and overestimations for elements Bi, Tl and Zr. We validated the degree of accuracy of the TXRF analytical method after recalibration using an independent set of 20 soil samples. We also tested the accuracy of the analysis using 2 multi-element standards as well as the method repeatability on replicate samples. The resulting total element concentration repeatability for all elements analyzed were within 10% coefficient of variability after the instrument recalibration except for Cd and Tl. Our findings demonstrate that TXRF could be used as a rapid screening tool for total element concentrations in soils assuming that sufficient calibration measures are followed.