Centralised Analytical Chemistry Group – Metals

The metals group analyses a wide variety of both environmental and experimental groups. Using state-of-the-art equipment in a purpose-built trace analysis laboratory, we are able to identify a wide range of metals.

We have a wealth of experience which enables us to offer a wide range of environmental analysis and which has allowed us to expand the capability and capacity of the metals laboratory. We are flexible and are always interested in looking at ways to help with the requirements of new project work in relation to emerging materials of environmental interest.

Measurements include:

Periodic table

  • Toxic transition row metals such as Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd and Pb
  • Major cations and nutrients including Na, Mg, K, Ca and P
  • Boron
  • Rare earth elements
  • Mercury
  • Lead isotopes
  • Arsenic organometallic speciation
  • Metal nanoparticles (metal NPs) such as Ag, TiO2 and ZnO

Analytical capability

Environmental analysts at CEH are able to measure a wide range of elements in a variety of matrices, including the following examples from recent project work:

  • Trace metals in stream and river waters
  • Mercury in rain
  • Metals in air (PM10 collected on cellulose filters)
  • Major cations in river waters
  • Boron in stream and river waters
  • Lead and Mercury in bird livers and fish tissues
  • Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd and Pb in terrestrial moss and lichens
  • Metals and nutrients in soils and upland peats
  • Lead isotopes in bird livers
  • Metal nanoparticles (TiO2, ZnO and Ag)
  • Cadmium in house dust
  • Silver in sewage effluents and sewage sludge
  • Organic arsenic species in earthworms

The list of elements we are able to measure is extensive - therefore, please do not hesitate to contact us if the elements or compounds you are interested in are not listed here or in our UKAS schedule.


  • ICPMS system - Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry is a multi-element technique capable of quantifying concentrations of a wide range of elements to the ng/l level. The system also includes an integrated HPLC that can be used for organometallic speciation and quantification.
  • ICPOES system - the Inductively Coupled Optical Emission Spectrometer is complementary to the ICPMS and is generally used for the measurement of major cations, nutrients and higher level metal concentrations found in for instance soils and biota.
  • AFS system - the Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometer is used exclusively for ultra low level mercury analysis and is very sensitive and highly selective for this element.
  • Microwave digestion – the CEM MARS Express system is used for preparation by acid digestion of solid samples prior to ICP analysis.

Sample types

A large variety of sample types can be analysed, for example:

  • Surface waters (streams, rivers and lakes)
  • Precipitation
  • Sediment and soil
  • Air filters
  • Sewage effluents and sludges
  • Biota, for example, bird eggs, bird and mammal livers, earthworms and plant materials such as mosses and lichens, etc.
  • Soil porewaters
  • Experimental solutions

Our methods may be adapted to additional sample types as required.


Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme

A long-term, national monitoring scheme that quantifies the concentrations of contaminants in the livers and eggs of selected species of predatory and fish-eating birds in Britain.

Metals chemistry role:
i) to quantify the levels of Hg, Pb and other toxic metals in bird eggs and liver and
ii) to determine the lead isotopic signature for bird livers using ICPMS to measure the relative levels of Pb isotopes.

Metal Deposition Network

The aim of this project is to monitor metals in rural wet deposition and air and, with colleagues at CEH's Edinburgh site, to map UK-wide metal deposition, reporting to UK government and the European Commission.

Metals chemistry role:
i) to run a 15 site UK-wide rural deposition network,
ii) manage and prepare PM10 and precipitation samples for trace analysis,
iii) complete quarterly measurements for major cations, mercury and trace metals and
iv) maintain the analytical database with some interpretation of data.


Various projects across CEH aiming to investigate the toxicology, behaviour and fate of engineered metal nanoparticles in the environment.

Metals chemistry role:
i) to advise project leaders about suitable analytical techniques to quantify metal nanoparticles,
ii) to set up and test methods to quantify these materials and
iii) specifically, to set up and test a single particle ICPMS (spICPMS) to quantify metal NP size and concentration.

Contact us

For quotes or information please contact Dr Alan Lawlor or Dr M. Gloria Pereira.

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Facility Type: 

  • Chemistry Metals

Science areas: