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Measurements and Standards for Contaminants in Environmental Samples


For the past 40 years NIST has developed SRMs for the determination of inorganic and organic contaminants in environmental matrices such as sediments/soils, marine and animal tissues, air particulate, and botanical materials. These natural environmental-matrix SRMs for contaminants are used worldwide as the basis for validating accuracy and comparability within the environmental measurement community. For inorganic analysis, the natural matrix SRMs typically have concentration values assigned for toxic metals and other elements of interest. Typical organic contaminants with values assigned in these natural matrix SRMs include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and persistent chlorinated pesticides.


Photograph showing labeled units of SRM 1649 Urban Dust and SRM 1649a Urban Dust.

SRM 1649 Urban Dust and SRM 1649a Urban dust

Credit: NIST

In 1971 NIST issued the first natural environmental matrix SRM for contaminants, SRM 1571 Orchard Leaves, with certified concentrations for trace elements. The development of SRM 1571 Orchard Leaves formalized the approach of combining results from "two or more independent and reliable analytical methods" to assign certified values as applied to natural environmental matrix SRMs for trace element content. During the 1970s, additional natural matrix SRMs for trace element content were developed using this approach including bovine liver, fly ash, spinach, pine needles, water, river and estuarine sediment, air particulate matter, and oyster tissue. A decade later the first environmental matrix SRM for organic contaminants was issued, SRM 1649 Urban Dust/Organics, with certified concentrations for a limited number of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). SRM 1649 and subsequent natural matrix materials issued during the next decade (coal tar, diesel particulate matter, marine sediment, and mussel tissue) established the multiple methods approach for organic contaminants in environmental matrices for PAHs, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chlorinated pesticides. During the past four decades, NIST has issued over 60 natural environmental matrix SRMs with certified values for inorganic and/or organic contaminants.

Many of these SRMs have been developed specifically to address the regulations and needs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For example the first air particulate SRMs were developed with support from EPA as well as the house dust materials for trace elements primarily for lead measurements. NOAA was the primary driver for the development of the first marine sediment and mussel tissue SRMs for organic contaminants to support marine monitoring programs initiated in the late 1980s.


For the SRMs intended for inorganic analysis, values are typically provided for 15 to 25 elements with emphasis on the heavy metal contaminants. Recent efforts have focused on the development of materials for speciated metals (e.g., hexavalent chromium in soil) and methylmercury in marine tissues) and providing values at lower concentration levels. The development of natural-matrix SRMs for the determination of organic environmental contaminants has focused primarily on persistent organic pollutants including PAHs, PCBs, and chlorinated pesticides. Recent activities have focused on expanding the number of PAHs and PCB congeners with values assigned and on assigning values for new classes of compounds. Recent environmental matrix SRMs typically have values assigned as appropriate for 30 to 50 PAHs, 40 to 50 PCB congeners, and 10 to 15 chlorinated pesticides. New classes of organic contaminants now included on some matrix SRMs include nitro-substituted PAHs, polycyclic aromatic sulfur heterocycles (PASH), toxaphene, and emerging contaminants such as brominated flame retardants, e.g., polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromocyclododecane (HCBD).


Values Assigned for Elements:   

SRM 1640 Natural Water 
SRM 1648a Air Particulate Matter 
SRM 2783 Air Particulate Matter on Filter Media 
SRMs 2583 and 2584 House Dust 
SRM 1566b Oyster Tissue 
SRM 2976 Mussel Tissue 
SRMs 1947 Fish Tissue 
SRM 1577c Bovine Liver 
SRMs 2586, 2587, 2701, 2709a, 2710a, and 2711a Soils 
SRMs 1646a, 2702, and 2703; RM 8704 Sediments 
SRMs 2781 and 2782 Sludges 
SRM 1515 Apple Leaves 
SRM 1547 Peach Leaves 
SRM 1570a Spinach Leaves 
SRM 1573a Tomato Leaves 
SRM 1575a Pine Needles 

Values Assigned for Organic Contaminants: 

SRM 1649b Air Particulate Matter 
SRM 2585 House Dust 
SRM 1650b Diesel Particulate Matter 
SRMs 1974c Mussel Tissue  
SRM 1947 Fish Tissue 
SRM 1588c Fish Oil    
SRM 1945 Whale Blubber 
SRMs 1941b and 1944 Marine Sediment 


1. Wise, S. A., "From urban dust and marine sediment to Ginkgo biloba and human serum-a top ten list of Standard Reference Materials (SRMs)," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 414, 31-52 (2022). 

2. Calderon-Jimenez, B., Johnson, M. E., Bustos, A. R. M., Murphy, K. E., Winchester, M. R., and Baudrit, J. R. V., "Silver Nanoparticles: Technological Advances, Societal Impacts, and Metrological Challenges," Frontiers in Chemistry, 5, (2017). 

3. Schantz, M. M., Cleveland, D., Heckert, N. A., Kucklick, J. R., Leigh, S. D., Long, S. E., Lynch, J. M., Murphy, K. E., Olfaz, R., Pintar, A. L., Porter, B. J., Rabb, S. A., Pol, S. S. V., Wise, S. A., and Zeisler, R., "Development of two fine particulate matter standard reference materials (< 4 mu m and < 10 mu m) for the determination of organic and inorganic constituents," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 408, 4257-4266 (2016). 

4. Ona-Ruales, J. O., Sharma, A. K., and Wise, S. A., "Identification and quantification of six-ring C26H16 cata-condensed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a complex mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from coal tar," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 407, 9165-9176 (2015). 

5. Wise, S. A., Sander, L. C., and Schantz, M. M., "Analytical Methods for Determination of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) - A Historical Perspective on the 16 US EPA Priority Pollutant PAHs," Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, 35, 187-247 (2015). 

6. Wise, S. A., Phinney, K. W., Sander, L. C., and Schantz, M. M., "Role of chromatography in the development of Standard Reference Materials for organic analysis," Journal of Chromatography A, 1261, 3-22 (2012). 

7. Poster, D. L., Kucklick, J. R., Schantz, M. M., Porter, B. J., Sander, L. C., and Wise, S. A., "New developments in Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) for environmental forensics," Environmental Forensics, 8, 181-191 (2007). 

8. Stapleton, H. M., Keller, J. M., Schantz, M. M., Kucklick, J. R., Leigh, S. D., and Wise, S. A., "Determination of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in environmental standard reference materials," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 387, 2365-2379 (2007). 

9. Wise, S. A. and Emons, H., "10(th) International Symposium on Biological and Environmental Reference Materials (BERM 10)," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 387, 2309-2311 (2007). 

10. Wise, S. A., Poster, D. L., Kucklick, J. R., Keller, J. M., VanderPol, S. S., Sander, L. C., and Schantz, M. M., "Standard reference materials (SRMs) for determination of organic contaminants in environmental samples," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 386, 1153-1190 (2006). 

11. Zeisler, R., Murphy, K. E., Becker, D. A., Davis, W. C., Kelly, W. R., Long, S. E., and Sieber, J. R., "Standard Reference Materials (R) (SRMs) for measurement of inorganic environmental contaminants," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 386, 1137-1151 (2006). 

12. Bamford, H. A., Bezabeh, D. Z., Schantz, M. M., Wise, S. A., and Baker, J. E., "Determination and comparison of nitrated-polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons measured in air and diesel particulate reference materials," Chemosphere, 50, 575-587 (2003). 

13. Choquette, S. J., O'Neal, L., and Duewer, D. L., "Rare-earth glass reference materials for near-infrared spectrometry: Correcting and exploiting temperature dependencies," Analytical Chemistry, 75, 961-966 (2003). 

14. Poster, D. L., Kucklick, J. R., Schantz, M. M., Porter, B. J., Leigh, S. D., and Wise, S. A., "Determination of polychlorinated biphenyl congeners and chlorinated pesticides in a fish tissue standard reference material," Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 375, 223-241 (2003). 

15. Schubert, P., Schantz, M. M., Sander, L. C., and Wise, S. A., "Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with molecular weight 300 and 302 in environmental-matrix standard reference materials by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry," Analytical Chemistry, 75, 234-246 (2003). 

16. Wise, S. A., "Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) for the determination of polycyclic aromatic compounds - Twenty years of progress," Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, 22, 197-230 (2002). 

17. Chiu, C. H., Turle, R., Poole, G., Thibert, B., Brubaker, W. W., Schantz, M. M., and Wise, S. A., "Determination of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin and dibenzofuran congeners in air particulate and marine sediment standard reference materials (SRMs)," Fresenius Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 369, 356-363 (2001). 

18. Turk, G. C., Yu, L. L., Salit, M. L., and Guthrie, W. F., "Using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry for calibration transfer between environmental CRMs," Fresenius Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 370, 259-263 (2001). 

19. Brubaker, W. W., Schantz, M. M., and Wise, S. A., "Determination of non-ortho polychlorinated biphenyls in environmental Standard Reference Materials," Fresenius Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 367, 401-406 (2000). 

20. Wise, S. A., Benner, B. A., De Alda, M. J. L., Porter, B. J., Poster, D. L., Sander, L. C., and Schantz, M. M., "Recent developments in NIST standard reference materials for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in environmental matrices," Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, 19, 297-313 (2000). 

21. Poster, D. L., De Alda, M. J. L., Schantz, M. M., Sander, L. C., Vangel, M. G., and Wise, S. A., "Certification of a diesel particulate related Standard Reference Material (SRM 1975) for PAHs," Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, 14, 23-31 (1999). 

22. Wise, S. A., Sander, L. C., Schantz, M. M., Hays, M. J., and Benner, B. A., "Recertification of standard reference material (SRM) 1649, urban dust, for the determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)," Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, 13, 419-456 (1999). 

23. Schantz, M. M., Bowadt, S., Benner, B. A., Wise, S. A., and Hawthorne, S. B., "Comparison of supercritical fluid extraction and Soxhlet extraction for the determination of polychlorinated biphenyls in environmental matrix standard reference materials," Journal of Chromatography A, 816, 213-220 (1998). 

24. Donais, M. K., Saraswati, R., Mackey, E., Demiralp, R., Porter, B., Vangel, M., Levenson, M., Mandic, V., Azemard, S., Horvat, M., May, K., Emons, H., and Wise, S., "Certification of three mussel tissue standard reference materials (SRM) for methylmercury and total mercury content," Fresenius Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 358, 424-430 (1997). 

25. Letellier, M., Budzinski, H., Garrigues, P., and Wise, S., "Focused microwave-assisted extraction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in open cell from reference materials (sediment, soil, air particulates)," Spectroscopy-An International Journal, 13, 71-80 (1997). 

26. Schantz, M. M., Nichols, J. J., and Wise, S. A., "Evaluation of pressurized fluid extraction for the extraction of environmental matrix reference materials," Analytical Chemistry, 69, 4210-4219 (1997). 

27. Wise, S. A., Schantz, M. M., Benner, B. A., Hays, M. J., and Schiller, S. B., "Certification of Polycyclic Aromatic-Hydrocarbons in A Marine Sediment Standard Reference Material," Analytical Chemistry, 67, 1171-1178 (1995). 

28. Schantz, M. M., Benner, B. A., Hays, M. J., and Wise, S. A., "Standard Reference Materials for the Determination of Polycyclic Aromatic-Hydrocarbons in Environmental-Samples," Abstracts of Papers of the American Chemical Society, 208, 111-GEOC (1994). 

29. Schantz, M. M., Parris, R. M., and Wise, S. A., "Nist Standard Reference Materials (Srms) for Polychlorinated Biphenyl (Pcb) Determinations and Their Applicability to Toxaphene Measurements," Chemosphere, 27, 1915-1922 (1993). 

30. Wise, S. A., Sander, L. C., and May, W. E., "Determination of Polycyclic Aromatic-Hydrocarbons by Liquid-Chromatography," Journal of Chromatography, 642, 329-349 (1993). 

31. May, W. E., Benner, B. A., Wise, S. A., Schuetzle, D., and Lewtas, J., "Standard Reference Materials for Chemical and Biological Studies of Complex Environmental-Samples," Mutation Research, 276, 11-22 (1992). 

32. Wise, S. A., Benner, B. A., Christensen, R. G., Koster, B. J., Kurz, J., Schantz, M. M., and Zeisler, R., "Preparation and Analysis of A Frozen Mussel Tissue Reference Material for the Determination of Trace Organic-Constituents," Environ. Sci. Technol., 25, 1695-1704 (1991). 

33. Turk, G. C. and Kingston, H. M., "Laser-Enhanced Ionization Spectrometry Following Matrix Modification by Automated Chelation Chromatography for the Analysis of Biological and Environmental Reference Materials," Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 5, 595-601 (1990). 

Created February 5, 2009, Updated October 31, 2023