Selective and sensitive detection of chromium(VI) in waters using electrospray ionization mass spectrometry

Effie Weldy, Chloe Wolff, Zhixin Miao, Hao Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


From 2000 through 2011, there were 14 criminal cases of violations of the Clean Water Act involving the discharge of chromium, a toxic heavy metal, into drinking and surface water sources. As chromium(VI), a potential carcinogen present in the environment, represents a significant safety concern, it is currently the subject of an EPA health risk assessment. Therefore, sensitive and selective detection of this species is highly desired. This study reports the analysis of chromium(VI) in water samples by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) following its reduction and complexation with ammonium pyrrolidinedithiocarbamate (APDC). The reduction and subsequent complexation produce a characteristic [Cr(III)O]-PDC complex which can be detected as a protonated ion of m/. z 507 in the positive ion mode. The detection is selective to chromium(VI) under acidic pH, even in the presence of chromium(III) and other metal ions, providing high specificity. Different water samples were examined, including deionized, tap, and river waters, and sensitive detection was achieved. In the case of deionized water, quantification over the concentration range of 3.7 to 148. ppb gave an excellent correlation coefficient of 0.9904 using the enhanced MS mode scan. Using the single-reaction monitoring (SRM) mode (monitoring the characteristic fragmentation of m/. z 507 to m/. z 360), the limit of detection (LOD) was found to be 0.25. ppb. The LOD of chromium(VI) for both tap and river water samples was determined to be 2.0. ppb. A preconcentration strategy using simple vacuum evaporation of the aqueous sample was shown to further improve the ESI signal by 15 fold. This method, with high sensitivity and selectivity, should provide a timely solution for the real-world analysis of toxic chromium(VI).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-300
Number of pages8
JournalScience and Justice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


  • Chromium(VI) detection
  • Electrospray ionization
  • Environmental forensics
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Toxicology


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