The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a portable detection system that identifies personal exposure to toxic lead and other dangerous heavy metals. The device accurately detects lead and other toxic metals in blood as well as in urine and saliva. It can provide an accurate blood sample measurement from a simple finger prick, which is particularly important when sampling children.

A bit larger than a lunchbox, the new detection system provides a quick, simple, and easy alternative to monitoring toxic metal exposures in high-risk populations, such as industrial workers, children and people living in polluted areas. It is field-deployable with plug-and-play features that allow different sensors to be easily exchanged to detect various heavy metal toxins. The battery-operated system requires about one and one-half times the power of a typical laptop computer. It routinely delivers reliable measurements within a rapid two-to-five minute analysis period.

Early estimates indicate that the device may be as much as 10 times less expensive than existing mass spectrometry systems, which lack field portability and require returning samples to the lab for analysis. "We need next-generation analyzers to reduce the time and lower the cost of analysis for clinical diagnosis," said PNNL scientist and principal investigator Wassana Yantasee.

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