Urine is universally recognized as one of the best non-invasive matrices for biomonitoring exposure to a broad range of xenobiotics, including toxic metals. Detection of metal ions in urine has been problematic due to the protein competition and electrode fouling. For direct, simple, and field-deployable monitoring of urinary Pb, electrochemical sensors employing superparamagnetic iron oxide (Fe3O4) nanoparticles with a surface functionalization of dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) has been developed. The metal detection involves rapid collection of dispersed metal-bound nanoparticles from a sample solution at a magnetic or electromagnetic electrode, followed by the stripping voltammetry of the metal in acidic medium. The sensors were evaluated as a function of solution pH, the binding affinity of Pb to DMSA–Fe3O4, the ratio of nanoparticles per sample volume, preconcentration time, and Pb concentrations. The effect of binding competitions between the DMSA–Fe3O4 and urine constituents for Pb on the sensor responses was studied. After 90 s of preconcentration in samples containing 25 vol.% of rat urine and 0.1 g L−1 of DMSA–Fe3O4, the sensor could detect background level of Pb (0.5 ppb) and yielded linear responses from 0 to 50 ppb of Pb, excellent reproducibility (%RSD of 5.3 for seven measurements of 30 ppb Pb), and Pb concentrations comparable to those measured by ICP-MS. The sensor could also simultaneously detect background levels (<1 ppb) of Cd, Pb, Cu, and Ag in river and seawater.
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