Elemental assessment of vegetation via portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) spectrometry

Candice McGladdery, David C. Weindorf, Somsubhra Chakraborty, Bin Li, Laura Paulette, Dorina Podar, Delaina Pearson, Nana Yaw O. Kusi, Bogdan Duda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Elemental concentrations in vegetation are of critical importance, whether establishing plant essential element concentrations (toxicity vs. deficiency) or investigating deleterious elements (e.g., heavy metals) differentially extracted from the soil by plants. Traditionally, elemental analysis of vegetation has been facilitated by acid digestion followed by quantification via inductively coupled plasma (ICP) or atomic absorption (AA) spectroscopy. Previous studies have utilized portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) spectroscopy to quantify elements in soils, but few have evaluated the vegetation. In this study, a PXRF spectrometer was employed to scan 228 organic material samples (thatch, deciduous leaves, grasses, tree bark, and herbaceous plants) from smelter-impacted areas of Romania, as well as National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) certified reference materials, to demonstrate the application of PXRF for elemental determination in vegetation. Samples were scanned in three conditions: as received from the field (moist), oven dry (70 °C), and dried and powdered to pass a 2 mm sieve. Performance metrics of PXRF models relative to ICP atomic emission spectroscopy were developed to asses optimal scanning conditions. Thatch and bark samples showed the highest mean PXRF and ICP concentrations (e.g., Zn, Pb, Cd, Fe), with the exceptions of K and Cl. Validation statistics indicate that the stable validation predictive capacity of PXRF increased in the following order: oven dry intact < field moist < oven dried and powdered. Even under field moist conditions, PXRF could reasonably be used for the determination of Zn (coefficient of determination, R2 val 0.86; residual prediction deviation, RPD 2.72) and Cu (R2 val 0.77; RPD 2.12), while dried and powdered samples allowed for stable validation prediction of Pb (R2 val 0.90; RPD 3.29), Fe (R2 val 0.80; RPD 2.29), Cd (R2 val 0.75; RPD 2.07) and Cu (R2 val 0.98; RPD of 8.53). Summarily, PXRF was shown to be a useful approach for quickly assessing the elemental concentration in vegetation. Future PXRF/vegetation research should explore additional elements and investigate its usefulness in evaluating phytoremediation effectiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-225
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Mar 15 2018


  • Elemental concentration
  • Heavy metals
  • Portable X-ray fluorescence
  • Vegetation


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