Analysis of metal-laden water via portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry

Delaina Pearson, David C. Weindorf, Somsubhra Chakraborty, Bin Li, Jaco Koch, Piet Van Deventer, Jandre de Wet, Nana Yaw Kusi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A rapid method for in-situ elemental composition analysis of metal-laden water would be indispensable for studying polluted water. Current analytical lab methods to determine water quality include flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS), atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS), electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry (EAAS), and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectroscopy. However only two field methods, colorimetry and absorptiometry, exist for elemental analysis of water. Portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) spectrometry is an effective method for elemental analysis of soil, sediment, and other matrices. However, the accuracy of PXRF is known to be affected while scanning moisture-laden soil samples. This study sought to statistically establish PXRF's predictive ability for various elements in water at different concentrations relative to inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES). A total of 390 metal-laden water samples collected from leaching columns of mine tailings in South Africa were analyzed via PXRF and ICP-AES. The PXRF showed differential effectiveness in elemental quantification. For the collected water samples, the best relationships between ICP and PXRF elemental data were obtained for K and Cu (R2 = 0.92). However, when scanning ICP calibration solutions with elements in isolation, PXRF results indicated near perfect agreement; Ca, K, Fe, Cu and Pb produced an R2 of 0.99 while Zn and Mn produced an R2 of 1.00. The utilization of multiple PXRF (stacked) beams produced stronger correlation to ICP relative to the use of a single beam in isolation. The results of this study demonstrated the PXRF's ability to satisfactorily predict the composition of metal-laden water as reported by ICP for several elements. Additionally this study indicated the need for a “Water Mode” calibration for the PXRF and demonstrates the potential of PXRF for future study of polluted or contaminated waters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-276
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Metals
  • PXRF
  • Water analysis


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