The Trace Elements Laboratory is a core component of the Laboratory of Inorganic and Nuclear Chemistry. The laboratory specializes in measuring many toxic metals/metalloids in environmental and clinical matrices, often at trace (10 to 104 µg/L or 0.01 to 100 µg/g) or even ultra trace (<10 µg/L or <0.01 µg/g ) levels. Some trace elements are important for human health because they are essential micronutrients (copper, zinc and selenium), yet others are non-essential and highly toxic: lead, cadmium, and mercury.  Monitoring trace elements in the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat is important for assessing external exposure. However to assess internal exposure, one must measure trace elements in blood, urine and human tissues.

As the EPA-designated primacy laboratory for NY State, the environmental trace elements section is accredited as NELAP – lab E37911, NYS ELAP – lab 10762, and EPA – lab NY00005, while the clinical trace elements section is accredited under CLIA certificate of compliance # 33D0654341 and NYS DOH Clinical Laboratory Permit PFI# 1067.

Analysis / Tests Routinely Performed

  • Environmental Trace Elements: analysis of potable and non-potable water, solid waste for trace metals using quadrupole-based Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry.
  • X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry: rapid screening of solid samples (supplements, toys, foods, cosmetics and spices) for toxic metals (Pb, Cd, As, and Hg).
  • Trace Elements in blood, urine and serum for multiple trace elements using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (note these analyses are conducted in support of various Biomonitoring studies).

Proficiency Testing

The laboratory operates a PT program for Trace Elements in whole blood, serum and urine matrices that is designed to support Biomonitoring.  Potential participants may contact the scheme organizers at for more details. An example of a recent PT report illustrates the scope of elements measured in biological fluids. Other interlaboratory studies for trace element (bone, keratin, etc.,) may be offered on an ad hoc basis in the future. Contact the scheme organizer for further details on upcoming studies, and information on past studies.

Academic Programs

Senior laboratory scientists hold academic appointments in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences of the University at Albany’s School of Public Health.  The laboratory hosts both doctoral (Ph.D.) and masters (M.S., M.P.H.) students working toward degrees awarded by the University at Albany in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS). Staff members co-teach several graduate courses (core and electives) that are required for completion of the degree. They include EHS 525 Environmental Chemical Analysis, EHS 530 Principles of Environmental Chemistry, EHS 530 Principles of Toxicology, and EHS 621 Chromatographic Methods. Opportunities for high school students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, chemist aides, and laboratory technicians are available, along with access to state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation.

Examples of Ph.D. theses completed in this laboratory include:

  • Biomonitoring for Exposure to Trace Elements in utero: Analysis of the Human Placenta. Pamela Kruger, Ph.D., 2009
  • Arsenic Speciation Analysis of Biological Fluids: A Study of Liquid Chromatography Coupled to Analytical Atomic Spectrometric Instrumentation. Kanna Ito, Ph.D., 2010
  • Development and Assessment of Analytical Methods for Monitoring Current and Historical Exposures to Manganese: Blood, Urine and Teeth. Meredith Praamsma, Ph.D., 2013
  • An Investigation of Alkaline Earth and Rare Earth Elements in Human Bone Following Long-Term Parenteral Nutrition. Aubrey Galusha, Ph.D., 2015

Research and Development

The laboratory has a long-history of conducting research into trace elements and human health, and exploring new ways to use modern analytical atomic spectrometry to solve problems in environmental health.  With more than ten ICP-MS instruments available, including Sector Field ICP-MS, and ICP-MS/MS, the lab is well equipped to tackle a broad range of analytical problems. A variety of LC and GC are coupled to ICP-MS to provide speciation analysis. The lab is also equipped with XRF instrumentation, including two XOS High Definition XRF instruments (i.e., monochromatic µ-XRF), a Niton XL3t GOLLD XRF, and K-Shell XRF instrumentation for in vivo bone lead measurements.

Current Research Focus

The laboratory is integrated into a larger research program that is focused on Biomonitoring and trace element analysis of both clinical and environmental samples. In 2015, the laboratory received NIH funding to support participation in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Human Health Environmental Analytical Resource (HHEAR), and also received NIH supplemental funding to support the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO).

Trace Elements

Kruger PC, Parsons PJ*, Galusha AL, Morrissette M, Recker RR, Howard LJ. Excessive Aluminum Accumulation in the Bones of Patients on Long-Term Parenteral Nutrition: Postmortem Analysis by Electrothermal Atomic Absorption Spectrometry. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. 2014; 38 (6): 728-735.
Praamsma ML, Parsons PJ*. Characterization of calcified reference materials for assessing the reliability of manganese determinations in teeth and bone. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry. 2014; 29 (7): 1243-1251.
Steuerwald AJ, Parsons PJ, Arnason JG, Chen Z, Peterson CM,Louis GMB . Trace element analysis of human urine collected after administration of Gd-based MRI contrast agents: characterizing spectral interferences using inorganic mass spectrometry. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry. 2013; 28 (6): 821-830.
Arnason JG, Pellegri CN,Parsons PJ . Determination of uranium isotope ratios in human urine by sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for use in occupational and biomonitoring studies. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry. 2013; 28 (9): 1410-1419.
Kruger, P. C., Bloom, M. S., Arnason, J. G., Palmer, C. D., Fujimoto, V. Y. and Parsons, P. J.. Trace elements in human follicular fluid: development of a sensitive multielement ICP-MS method for use in biomonitoring studies. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry. 2012; 27 (8): 1245-1253.