Abstract

We use the natural zeolite clinoptilolite as the sensitive element in a plasticised PVC membrane. Separating a sample pool and a reference pool with such a membrane in water-gated SnO2 thin-film transistor (SnO2 WGTFT) leads to membrane potential, and thus transistor threshold shift in response to the common drinking water pollutants Pb2+ or Cu2+ in the sample pool. Threshold shift with ion concentration, c, follows a Langmuir–Freundlich (LF) characteristic. As the LF characteristic shows the steepest slope in the limit c → 0, this opens a window to limits-of-detection (LoDs) far below the ‘action levels’ of the ‘lead-and-copper rule’ for drinking water: Pb2+: LoD 0.9 nM vs 72 nM action level, Cu2+: LoD 14 nM vs 20.5 μM action level. LoDs are far lower than for membranes using organic macrocycles as their sensitive elements. Threshold shifts at the lead and copper action levels are more significant than shifts in response to variations in the concentration of non-toxic co-cations, and we discuss in detail how to moderate interference. The selective response to lead and copper qualifies clinoptilolite-sensitised WGTFTs as a low footprint sensor technology for monitoring the lead-and-copper rule, and to confirm the effectiveness of attempts to extract lead and copper from water.

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