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Open-File Report 2008–1350

Speciation Methods Used to Assess Potential Health Effects of Toxic Metals in Environmental Materials

By Ruth E. Wolf, Suzette A. Morman, and Geoffrey S. Plumlee


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Assessing potential exposures to toxic metals or metalloids such as arsenic and chromium in environmental materials is important in protecting public health. The chemical form of an element in, or released from, a material is also important, since some forms, such as Cr(VI), are more toxic than others, for example, Cr(III). We have used a variety of procedures to assess potential exposures to hexavalent chromium in ash and burned soils from October 2007 southern California wildfires. Synthetic lung-fluid and de-ionized water extractions simulate release in the lungs and potential environmental releases due to rainfall. Extracts were analyzed for specific chromium and arsenic species using HPLC-ICP-MS methodology. Results indicate that the highly oxidizing environment in wildfires promotes some chromium conversion to Cr(VI), and that the caustic alkalinity of ash enhances Cr(VI) release and stability in lung fluids and rainfall.

Version 1.0

Posted December 2008

For additional information contact:

Director, Minerals Resources Program
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046, MS 964D
Denver Federal Center
Denver CO 80225

World Wide Web:

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Suggested citation:

Wolf, R.E., Morman, S.A., and Plumlee, G.S., 2008, Speciation methods used to assess potential health effects of toxic metals in environmental materials: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008-1350, 35 p.

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