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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
Eight institutes using 12 different instruments analyzed newly developed multi-element reference materials (RM) for atmospheric particulate matter (PM) measurements. These RM have the potential to fill a gap in the currently available quality assurance resources for element analysis of PM samples such as X-ray fluorescence and inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry. This study evaluates the performance of these new RM generated by the University of California, Davis. The methodological challenge was to determine the reference loadings on the RM. Gravimetry is the most robust method to determine the sample deposit mass but cannot be used for these RM because some solution components are volatile and result in unpredictable total mass loadings on the RM. Instead of using gravimetry, a single well-measured element, along with the assumption that the relative mass fractions in the solutions were maintained in the aerosol deposited on the filters, was used to determine the reference loadings on the RM. This assumption appears to be valid for most elements in the solutions; notable exceptions include volatile species such as chlorine and bromine. Results from the 12 different instruments in the inter-laboratory evaluation agreed very well with the reference loadings (adjusted R2 > 0.9 and slope between 0.7 and 1.3) for 17 of the 28 elements. In many cases, one or two instruments did not meet the performance criteria, which points to individual instrument calibration problems. For the 11 elements that did not perform as well, development work continues, and this intercomparison helped identify and fix a source of contamination in the system used to create the RM.