A sensitive, selective method for the determination of lanthanum in food and water samples by atomic absorption spectrometry using a graphite tube lined with tungsten foil is described. The atomization of lanthanum from the tungsten surface gives better analytical sensitivity, a lower atomization temperature and negligible memory effects. The characteristic mass and detection limit of the method were 8.1 x 10(-9) and 7.85 x 10(-9) g, respectively. The precision (relative standard deviation in the range 5.9-9.9%), accuracy and interferences of the method were also investigated. The method can be used directly for the determination of trace amounts of lanthanum in food and water without pre-dissociation of the matrices. The results obtained by this method are in good agreement with those obtained from inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry.