Issue Date: February 16, 2009
I WAS MORE than surprised to read in the article "Improving Metal Detection in Drugs" that the pharmaceutical industry still uses a century-old method of qualitative analysis for determining metals in ingredients and products (C&EN, Dec. 8, 2008, page 32).
Although it dates me, I admit that I probably have not done this test in the 50 years since my days as a college freshman. Most of us analytical chemists long ago gave up our test tubes for modern instrumental methods of metal analysis such as AAS or ICP-AES mentioned in the article. Apparently, the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) is just getting around to using these atomic spectroscopic techniques, which have been in wide use in academia and industry for decades.
ASTM International has published about 30 standard test methods using these techniques for analysis of petroleum products, coal and coke, metallurgical products, nuclear materials, and environmental samples. An additional 15 methods using ICP-MS have been issued. The Environmental Protection Agency uses these methods routinely to check for trace metals in wastewater.
It was astounding to read the comments from some in the pharmaceutical industry still resisting the use of these modern techniques to replace century-old wet chemistry techniques. I suppose the good news is that if USP implements these changes in the analytical methodology, we analytical atomic spectroscopists will have a brand-new employment opportunity, and the instrument vendors will be able to sell more of their instruments to the pharmaceutical industry labs.
Chairman, ASTM D02.SC 3 on Elemental Analysis
East Brunswick, N.J.
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