Improving the accuracy of hand-held X-ray fluorescence spectrometers as a tool for monitoring brominated flame retardants in waste polymers

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  • Thermo Fisher Scientific (GmbH) Bremen
  • Institute for Testing and Certification A.S.


An optimised method for Br quantification as a metric of brominated flame retardant (BFR) concentrations present in Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) polymers is proposed as an alternative to the sophisticated, yet time consuming GC-MS methods currently preferred. A hand-held X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer was validated with Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). Customized standard materials of specific BFRs in a styrenic polymer were used to perform an external calibration for hand-held XRF ranging from 0.08 to 12 wt% of Br, and cross-checking with LA-ICP-MS having similar LODs (0.0004 wt% for LA-ICP-MS and 0.0011 wt% for XRF). The "thickness calibration" developed here for hand-held XRF and the resulting correction, was applied to 28 real samples and showed excellent (R2 = 0.9926) accordance with measurements obtained via LA-ICP-MS. This confirms the validity of hand-held XRF as an accurate technique for the determination of Br in WEEE plastics. This is the first use of solid standards to develop a thickness-corrected quantitative XRF measurement of Br in polymers using LA-ICP-MS for method evaluation. Thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) was used to confirm the presence of specific BFRs in WEEE polymer samples. We propose that expressing limit values for BFRs in waste materials in terms of Br rather than BFR concentration (based on a conservative assumption about the BFR present), presents a practical solution to the need for an accurate, yet rapid and inexpensive technique capable of monitoring compliance with limit values in situ.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
Early online date6 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


  • BFRs, In-situ quantification, Plastic, WEEE, X-ray fluorescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas