Research Article Subject Area 7.2: Evaluations of the Impacts and Interactions of Chemicals in the Laboratory or Real Environments, and Their Fat

Environmental Science and Pollution Research - International

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 333-337

First online:

Toxicity of cobalt-complexed cyanide to Oncorhynchus mykiss, Daphnia magna, and Ceriodaphnia dubia

Potentiation by ultraviolet radiation and attenuation by dissolved organic carbon and adaptive UV tolerance
  • Edward E. LittleAffiliated withColumbia Environmental Research Center, USGS Email author 
  • , Robin D. CalfeeAffiliated withColumbia Environmental Research Center, USGS
  • , Peter TheodorakosAffiliated withUSGS
  • , Zoe Ann BrownAffiliated withUSGS
  • , Craig A. JohnsonAffiliated withUSGS

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Cobalt cyanide complexes often result when ore is treated with cyanide solutions to extract gold and other metals. These have recently been discovered in low but significant concentrations in effluents from gold leach operations. This study was conducted to determine the potential toxicity of cobalt-cyanide complexes to freshwater organisms and the extent to which ultraviolet radiation (UV) potentiates this toxicity. Tests were also conducted to determine if humic acids or if adaptation to UV influenced sensitivity to the cyanide complexes.


Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Daphnia magna, and Ceriodaphnia dubia were exposed to potassium hexacyanocobaltate in the presence and absence of UV radiation, in the presence and absence of humic acids. Cyano-cobalt exposures were also conducted with C. dubia from cultures adapted to elevated UV.


With an LC50 concentration of 0.38 mg/L, cyanocobalt was over a 1000 times more toxic to rainbow trout in the presence of UV at a low, environmentally relevant irradiance level (4 μW/cm2 as UVB) than exposure to this compound in the absence of UV with an LC50 of 112.9 mg/L. Toxicity was immediately apparent, with mortality occurring within an hour of the onset of exposure at the highest concentration. Fish were unaffected by exposure to UV alone. Weak-acid dissociable cyanide concentrations were observed in irradiated aqueous solutions of cyanocobaltate within hours of UV exposure and persisted in the presence of UV for at least 96 hours, whereas negligible concentrations were observed in the absence of UV. The presence of humic acids significantly diminished cyanocobalt toxicity to D. magna and reduced mortality from UV exposure. Humic acids did not significantly influence survival among C. dubia. C. dubia from UV-adapted populations were less sensitive to metallocyanide compounds than organisms from unadapted populations.


The results indicate that metallocyanide complexes may pose a hazard to aquatic life through photochemically induced processes. Factors that decrease UV exposure such as dissolved organic carbon or increased pigmentation would diminish toxicity.


Aquatic organisms Ceriodaphnia dubia cyanocobalt Daphnia magna Oncorhynchus mykiss organic carbon radiation rainbow trout toxicity ultraviolet radiation UV tolerance