Lead and copper in chewing gum samples were determined by electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry (ETAAS) with Zeeman background correction using various chemical modifiers and by flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS) using 2% m/v ammonium pyrrolidine dithiocarbarnate (APDC) complexing reagent in methyl isobuthyl keton (MIBK). Arsenic in samples was determined by hydride generation atomic absorption spectrometry (HGAAS). In order to decrease the interferences in sample matrix by ETAAS, Pd, Pt, W, Mo, Mg, PO43-, their mixtures and W + Pd + tartaric acid (TA) have been tested as matrix modifiers in sample solutions. Modifiers have been compared in terms of pyrolysis temperature, atomization and background profiles of analytes. W + Pd + TA modifier mixture found as preferable was used for the determination of analytes by ETAAS. The reliability of the procedures was verified by analyzing several certified reference materials (CRMs). Detection limits of Pb and Cu determined by ETAAS and As determined by HGAAS were 1.2, 0.8 and 3.0 mug l(-1) for Pb, Cu and As, respectively. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.