In this study, a simple method was developed to use water soluble polymer, polyacrylic acid, for the separation and pre-concentration of trace Cd, Cu and Zn prior to their analysis by flame atomic absorption spectrometry. For this purpose, the sample and poly-acrylic acid were mixed and the metal-bound polymer was precipitated by the addition of acetone. The precipitate was separated and dissolved in a minimum amount of water and aspirated into a flame AAS. The method was compared with traditional water insoluble sorbents in all aspects. The technique described is fast, simple, precise and inexpensive. Blank values were low and recoveries were 96.5% for Cd, 99.7% for Cu and 98.0% for Zn. Detection limits (3 sigma) were 1.8 mu g 1(-1) for Cd, 2.5 mu g 1(-1) for Cu, and 2.2 mu g 1(-1) for Zn. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.