Development of a method for detecting trace metals in aqueous solutions based on the coordination chemistry of hexahydrotriazines

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The detection of trace amounts (<10 ppb) of heavy metals in aqueous solutions is described using 1,3,5-hexahydro-1,3,5-triazines (HTs) as chemical indicators and a low cost fluorimeter-based detection system. This method takes advantage of the inherent properties of HTs to coordinate strongly with metal ions in solution, a fundamental property that was studied using a combination of analytical tools (UV-Vis titrations, 1H-NMR titrations and computational modeling). Based on these fundamental studies that show significant changes in the HT UV signature when a metal ion is present, HT compounds were used to prepare indicator strips that resulted in significant fluorescence changes when a metal was present. A portable and economical approach was adopted to test the concept of utilizing HTs to detect heavy metals using a fluorimeter system that consisted of a low-pressure mercury lamp, a photo-detector, a monolithic photodiode and an amplifier, which produces a voltage proportional to the magnitude of the visible fluorescence emission. Readings of the prepared HT test strips were evaluated by exposure to two different heavy metals at the safe threshold concentration described by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Cr3+ and Ag2+ (100 μg L-1 and 6.25, respectively). This method of detection could be used to the presence of either metal at these threshold concentrations.