Use of Zeolite for Removing Ammonia and Ammonia-Caused Toxicity in Marine Toxicity Identification Evaluations

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Abstract

Ammonia occurs in marine waters including effluents, receiving waters, and sediment interstitial waters. At sufficiently high concentrations, ammonia can be toxic to aquatic species. Toxicity identification evaluation (TIE) methods provide researchers with tools for identifying aquatic toxicants. For identifying ammonia toxicity, there are several possible methods including pH alteration and volatilization, Ulva lactuca addition, microbial degradation, and zeolite addition. Zeolite addition has been used successfully in freshwater systems to decrease ammonia concentrations and toxicity for several decades. However, zeolite in marine systems has been used less because ions in the seawater interfere with zeolite’s ability to adsorb ammonia. The objective of this study was to develop a zeolite method for removing ammonia from marine waters. To accomplish this objective, we performed a series of zeolite slurry and column chromatography studies to determine uptake rate and capacity and to evaluate the effects of salinity and pH on ammonia removal. We also assessed the interaction of zeolite with several toxic metals. Success of the methods was also evaluated by measuring toxicity to two marine species: the mysid Americamysis bahia and the amphipod Ampelisca abdita. Column chromatography proved to be effective at removing a wide range of ammonia concentrations under several experimental conditions. Conversely, the slurry method was inconsistent and variable in its overall performance in removing ammonia and cannot be recommended. The metals copper, lead, and zinc were removed by zeolite in both the slurry and column treatments. The zeolite column was successful in removing ammonia toxicity for both the mysid and the amphipod, whereas the slurry was less effective. This study demonstrated that zeolite column chromatography is a useful tool for conducting marine water TIEs to decrease ammonia concentrations and characterize toxicity.