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Calculating The Toxicity Of Ammonia In Freshwater


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#1 Gvilleguy

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 07:32 PM

NOTE: I actually did this research prior to spotting the thread in the beginner's section of the forum titled "Toxicity of Ammonia". After comparing my research to the results posted there, I am getting different "factor" results than the percentages posted in that thread. I'm going to lay out my research here, and then perhaps we can discuss why those numbers are different from these. I verified the numbers I used from three different research papers. (bibliography provided at the end) I may have misunderstood how the numbers in the other article are being used.

BACKGROUND
I went down this road because I have very soft aquarium water with a pH of 6.0, and whenever I carefully clean my filters, or take media out to put in another tank, I enter a "mini-cycle" that typically lasts from 3 to 4 weeks. The bacteria colonies recover more slowly in the low pH. The ammonia will usually register 0.25 to 0.50 ppm during the recovery period, and water changes do very little to help, since my tap water measures 0.25 ppm of ammonia. It is very frustrating, and I began researching to see just how toxic this level of ammonia is to my fish. It turns out I did not have as much to worry about as I thought.

ANY LEVEL OF AMMONIA IS BAD
It is important to note that ANY level of ammonia indicates an imbalance in the nitrogen cycle, and you should take whatever steps are needed to correct the situation as quickly as possible. But using the information in this article can help you determine whether you are in an emergency situation (actively harming the fish), or if you can take corrective action less urgently.

EDIT: After corresponding with some senior members on the forum, it should also be noted that fish sensitivity to ammonia can vary greatly by species. So use the 0.05 toxicity point with great caution. You might have fish that are more sensitive than that.


AMMONIA BREAKDOWN
The ammonia measured by your test kit actually gives you one total value containing two different forms of ammonia. This total is known as the Total Ammonia Nitrogen, or TAN.

The TAN is made up of:
1. NH4+: Ionized ammonia (ammonium): so named because it has a positive charge.
2. NH3: Un-ionized ammonia: has no charge.

Of the two ammonia types, NH3 is BY FAR more dangerous to your fish. Any level of NH3 greater than 0.05 ppm is considered to be a toxic level for fish, and a level of NH3 of 2.0 will kill your fish (Univ. of Florida, "Ammonia in Aquatic Systems"). The level of NH3 versus NH4+ will vary based on your pH level and your temperature. At higher levels of pH and temperature you will find higher (and more toxic) amounts of NH3 ammonia.


HOW TO CALCULATE THE LEVEL OF NH3 AMMONIA
Several research studies have already created reference tables containing the factors used to multiply your TAN reading to calculate the level of NH3. I took those tables and selected what I thought would be the most common range of temperature and pH used for freshwater aquariums. Here is a print screen of the table, but if you would also like the original Excel spreadsheet, just send me a message.

Posted Image

FORMULA: NH3 = TAN * Factor

TAN= the ppm total of ammonia from your tested tank water
Factor = the decimal number from the chart corresponding to your cross referenced pH and temperature

The research studies I looked at had the factors stated as percentages, requiring you to divide by 100 before multiplying by the TAN. But I divided by 100 prior to putting the numbers into the spreadsheet, so you do not have to do that. Just take your TAN and multiply by the number from the table.

For my own tank reading, my TAN was 0.50 ppm ammonia, with a pH of 6.0, and temperature of 26C. The factor table gave me a conversion factor of 0.000610:

0.50 ppm * 0.000610 = 0.000305 ppm NH3

This value is WELL below the toxic level for ammonia, so I know that my fish are not in serious danger while the tank recovers from the mini-cycle.

If you are in a situation where you are waiting out a mini-cycle, and you cannot dilute the ammonia with water changes, you should at least closely monitor your pH and calculate your level of NH3 to ensure your fish are not suffering from toxic ammonia levels.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tallahassee, FL. "Calculation of Un-ionized Ammonia in Fresh Water, STORET Parameter Code 00619". Revision 2: Feb 12, 2001.

Francis-Floyd, Ruth, Craig Watson, Denise Petty, and Deborah B. Pouder. "Ammonia in Aquatic Systems". University of Florida IFAS Extension; first published: May 1990; revisions: June, 1996, February 2009.

Griffitts, Tony. "Ammonia Toxicity and the pH Relationship". "Aquaworld Aquarium" online fish magazine.

Thurston, Robert V., Rosemarie C. Russo, and Kenneth Emerson. "Aqueous Ammonia Equilibrium - Tabulation of Percent of Un-Ionized Ammonia". Montana State University & The United States Environmental Protection Agency. August 1979.

Edited by Gvilleguy, 29 October 2010 - 12:13 PM.


#2 anon02

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 08:41 PM

Nice one

So 2ppm tan @24C and 7.0pH would give a toxicity of 0.011ppm

Is there no toxicity contribution from ammonium to be added back in ?

#3 Gvilleguy

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 10:28 PM

Anon - yes - I agree with that calculation. I did not read in any of the research where ammonium was factored in for toxicity.

#4 Bignose

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 11:15 PM

http://www.fishforum...ammonia-charts/

The factors are different because what truly constitutes "emergency" levels for a fish is going to vary from species to species, and even from individual from individual. When I made the chart before, I choose the most conservative value I ever found, in that I choose the one that made the lowest levels of ammonia toxic. Even then, there is probably no one right answer.

#5 anon02

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 11:45 PM

http://www.fishforums.net/index.php?/topic/154313-of-toxic-ammonia-charts/

The factors are different because what truly constitutes "emergency" levels for a fish is going to vary from species to species, and even from individual from individual. When I made the chart before, I choose the most conservative value I ever found, in that I choose the one that made the lowest levels of ammonia toxic. Even then, there is probably no one right answer.

I mustn`t have come across that,I read your excellent piece on pH versus hardness (the one in om47 sig) I`ve sent you a pm

#6 waterdrop

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:09 AM

Yes, GVG, very nice observation that these factor tables vary in different papers. I have often used them without even thinking about them varying.. and yet if I'd only thought about it I would have realized that must be true as I've always known it varies significantly by species. It is indeed a true that we've had beginners in awkward situations with ammonia in the tap water and no doubt we've overlooked the opportunity to relieve them of some of their stress about it. Your material is very clearly presented and in the future when I see articles with these charts I'm going to watch closely for species information, if they give any. I think we instinctively know that we've got a wide range from the fish we know to be quite sensitive to ammonia way on down to the river channel catfish that can live in really nasty water, but wouldn't it be interesting to sit in on a talk by a knowledgeable limnologist who had a much clearer picture of which types of fish would fall where along the continuum?

~~waterdrop~~

#7 drobbyb

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 05:17 AM

Kind of off topic a little, but You seem to have the same problem that I do with pH (essentially a hardness problem). You may try crushed coral in your filters as I have written in my article (link can be found in my signature). I found that in my particular case, I could reliably predict when I needed to do a water change based on my stable population size and maintenance habits. This particular technique helped me immensely.

#8 Gvilleguy

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:11 PM

http://www.fishforums.net/index.php?/topic/154313-of-toxic-ammonia-charts/

The factors are different because what truly constitutes "emergency" levels for a fish is going to vary from species to species, and even from individual from individual. When I made the chart before, I choose the most conservative value I ever found, in that I choose the one that made the lowest levels of ammonia toxic. Even then, there is probably no one right answer.


I understand now - thanks for clarifying. I wonder what fish type the researchers have in mind when they state 0.05 as the toxicity level for fish? They must be generalizing on average.

Kind of off topic a little, but You seem to have the same problem that I do with pH (essentially a hardness problem). You may try crushed coral in your filters as I have written in my article (link can be found in my signature). I found that in my particular case, I could reliably predict when I needed to do a water change based on my stable population size and maintenance habits. This particular technique helped me immensely.


Yes - this is on my "to do" list for the tank. I have not gotten around to it yet, but I need to! I'd like a little more hardness in the water. The KH/GH of zero makes my life a little difficult in terms of maintaining stable bacteria populations.

#9 Gvilleguy

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:15 PM

I added an amended note to my original post about being careful using the 0.05 guideline.

#10 aarya

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 12:31 PM

Hi forum, :hyper:
I am a researcher pursuing my research under Fisheries microbiology. Hence, I have taken up a topic ''Nullifying Ammonia completely by employing heterotrophic bacteria''. This Ammonia is a main problem in all intensive aquaculture systems and as all of us know Ammonia is lethal to fish even in a very minute dose. Eventhough by utilizing Nitrobacter and Nitrosomanas (They are highly aerobic (needs high oxygen))we could achieve the derivatives of Ammonia such as nitrite and later nitrate which are less harmful to fishes in general and it is the most vital factor to be considered in Marine aquariums. The derivative of Ammonia is through fish excreta even through other parts of it's body. So, here I wanted to know has anyone tried and worked on this aspect. My question is - whether are there any other bacteria which can be made employable to convert/neutralize Ammonia in a much faster and efficient way? If yes, which bacteria's and How?

#11 TwoTankAmin

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 02:07 PM

Dr. Timothy Hovanec who is the researcher responsible for identifying the specific bacteria which work in our aquariums wrote the following:

As my peer-reviewed published research has shown not all nitrifying bacteria are the same. The nitrifying bacteria in aquaria are different species than those in waste water treatment facilities


My understanding is that the bacteria in our tanks could not survive the ammonia and nitrite levels generated in waste water treatment and that the bacteria which can, do not thrive in our tanks. So even though the answer to your question would be yes, it would also not be applicable to our hobby.

You can link to the abstracts or the full papers here http://www.drtimsaqu...encePapers.html

#12 Bignose

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 05:30 PM

aarya, as a researcher, you need to become proficient at the tools that help you look up papers. In particular, I've had great success with Web of Science. If your institution does not have access to it, I'd lobby as much as you can to get access. Because you should have been able to find Hovanec's papers along with many others on this topic without having to ask a hobbyist forum.

#13 aarya

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 08:08 PM

Hi First of all many thanks to TwoTankAmin. :good:
:D @Bignose - Basically I am an aquarist cum Fisheries student. I didn't enter this site since I need information or no issues regarding the internet access. i have enough access to it. Even scientific journals etc. But, I like to ask once with aquarist community. the reason behind this is simple.
1) As per I know hobbyist are the one who does the things wholeheartedly with utmost meticulousness. :wub:
2) I prefer hobbyist because there wont be any time limits for them to finish up the work in a hurry where as it happens among scientific community resulting inferior quality papers with unrealistic/fake results. :sick: There are exceptions, I agree.
3) Since, hobbyist has a sort of digging things to it's greater depths. but, I am not saying a researcher lacks it. Instead, he can only relay on scientific facts and figures and the can take insights from very limited number of people.
4) Right now what worked for Dr. Timothy Hovanec not necessarily work in the very same manner with me.
5) I think whatever research are being carried out are ending up it's life in scientific article as a high/low impact factor oriented journal is not a good sign. It has to reach to the target group who are in real need like this forum people.
6) A researcher carries out his work till the end of his dissertation or till funding is being given for that allotted objectives whereas in case of hobbyist there is no end for his curiousness and even he believes in sharing the knowledge like this forum does.
6) There are too many fishes dying in the hobby only because of lack of awareness regarding proper caring, handling, stress and transportation etc.
7) I asked the question here because :hey:

a) This question of mine will remain as a reference to all who search for answer to the question of my kind. -_-

b) Importantly, many people want an instant cure. I am giving an instance here: If an aquarist/hobbyist finds his tank with high level of ammonia, first thing he can think off will be WATER EXCHANGE next going for any possible means of chemical method to reduce the level instantly. In the other hand if he is patient enough he think for a while and proceed further about how to approach the issue in a right perspective this might solve his problem with a little chat with his fellow mates who will be with him all the time pertaining to the hobby.

Ultimately, thanks for pointing out certain issues her and made me to explain a bit on this issue Bignose.

Dear Forum : Expecting some more inputs and new insights from all of you about the same question of mine which I have narrated earlier. :good:

#14 KISSfn

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 12:30 AM

Thanks for posting Gvilleguy! :good:

Edited by KISSfn, 10 July 2011 - 12:30 AM.


#15 Bignose

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 03:17 PM

As a foil to most of these parts, I'm going to inject my comments:

1) As per I know hobbyist are the one who does the things wholeheartedly with utmost meticulousness.


While there are some hobbyists who do, I think the vast majority don't. Not compared to scientific work, where if controls and standard procedures aren't implemented and followed, papers will not be accepted.

2) I prefer hobbyist because there wont be any time limits for them to finish up the work in a hurry where as it happens among scientific community resulting inferior quality papers with unrealistic/fake results. :sick: There are exceptions, I agree.


Whatever your issues with the scientific community here, I'm sorry, but I really don't think that hobbyists are the answer. In my experience as someone who has tried to present a scientific point of view to this forum for many years now, myths and antiscience still dominates. Much of the 'knowledge' is still largely based on anecdote and 'friend-of-a-friend' or 'read-on-the-Internet-one-time'. At least with a scientific paper, you have a little hope that it wasn't just anecdote. For most hobbyists, anecdote is all that is known. Look how many people still firmly believe that ich is in every tank, or that a fish kept in too small a tank will be bulging with overgrown organs.

This is not to say that papers haven't been published with poor results or poorly conducted experiments, but their quality scientifically is still greatly superior to most anything done by even the most dedicated hobbyist. For example, even the dedicated hobbyists don't typically repeat the data gathering and experiments to any kind of meaningful statistical significance.

Lastly, most papers that concern this hobby are written for the commercial fisheries industry -- and they is their primary goal. The aquarium hobby generates far less income than the commercial fisheries. So, that is what is studied, for the most part. There are also some biology and genetics research that use fish in their studies, but they aren't usually working for someone with a concern about the hobby industry.

3) Since, hobbyist has a sort of digging things to it's greater depths. but, I am not saying a researcher lacks it. Instead, he can only relay on scientific facts and figures and the can take insights from very limited number of people.


I don't understand what alternative you are trying to present here. How can one NOT 'rely on scientific facts and figures'? Again, are you going to rely on anecdote? Your conclusions from from facts and figures not acquired scientifically are surely going to be misleading at best, flat out wrong or dangerous at the worst. I almost hesitate to say it, but this is the kind of approach taken by someone trying to sell a 'miracle cream' or 'magic powder' that cures all diseases.

They implicate all of science because science got a few things wrong, and try to convince people that their unsupported ideas don't need to be supported to possibly be true.

I guess to cut to the chase here -- if you have so little faith in science, then propose a better mechanism and system that will do better. Science as a process and institution have evolved to do a pretty darn good job of separating the gold from the fools gold. It certainly isn't perfect. But, if you think of all the knowledge that mankind has accrued over the last 3000 or years, it is truly astounding how far we've come in such a short time. If you think that there is something better out there, then I'd be most interested to know what it is.

4) Right now what worked for Dr. Timothy Hovanec not necessarily work in the very same manner with me.


Sure. Science needs people to continuously challenge the status quo, in order to come up with the next revolution. But, you also need to fully understand the work Hovanec did, and not just dismiss it out of hand.

5) I think whatever research are being carried out are ending up it's life in scientific article as a high/low impact factor oriented journal is not a good sign. It has to reach to the target group who are in real need like this forum people.


If you are proposing setting up an aquarium hobby news service to read the papers, translate them into common language, and post the summaries here, then that is great. Otherwise, It won't matter if the papers are published in the lowest of low impact journals, or in Science or Nature (two of the highest imapact journals). The hobbyist won't read them. #1 The language of the papers necessarily is written in the language of scientists. Just like we have our own lingo in the hobby ('LFS', 'cycling', etc.), scientist have their own language so that they don't have to write out in full detail every time. And, a person not trained in that branch of science is probably not going to be able to determine the lingo very well. #2 The average hobbyist, even if they did read the paper and somehow understand the words, probably won't understand the results and know how to apply them to the hobby anyway. Again, to understand science takes training -- and most of the time, summaries or translations into common language is a decent analogy, but rarely perfect. For example, a lot of the analogies about general relativity (like the bowling ball on the bed analogy of how matter distorts space-time) are incomplete at best. All analogies are. One does not really understand general relativity without studying it. And it would be the same for papers about the aquarium hobby.

And lastly, the average fish related paper is published in a low impact journal because there just isn't a lot of money in it, as above.

6) A researcher carries out his work till the end of his dissertation or till funding is being given for that allotted objectives whereas in case of hobbyist there is no end for his curiousness and even he believes in sharing the knowledge like this forum does.


A researcher 'believes in sharing the knowledge' by publishing papers. Again, if you are starting a clearing house to spread the results of these publications to hobbyist forums, more power to you.

EDITED TO ADD: I also want to address the 'till the end of his dissertation or till funding is being given' phrase here, and say that scientists are employees as well as scientists. Many of them started a career in science because they enjoy it, but it is still a career, too. They have to pay mortgages, rent, bills, etc. If funding is not available to do a project, even if they really want too, they probably need to be responsible to their families and do work that will actually pay the bills. It would be nice if research could be paid for just for its own sake, but in the real world, money to do the research is pretty necessary.

6) There are too many fishes dying in the hobby only because of lack of awareness regarding proper caring, handling, stress and transportation etc.


Sure, but that is what a forum like this is about. In the end, however, you have to acknowledge that fish forum members are only a tiny percentage of people who own fish. Far less than 1%, really. A forum is one way that helps spread information, but if your true goal is to get this knowledge to as many people as possible, you are going to need to come up with a new way besides a forum.

Good luck with this. I hope that you can do it, but to many people, their fish in their aquarium are just 'disposable' pets. They just don't care a huge amount. I hope that you can change this attitude, but I think that many have tried and not gained much traction.

b) Importantly, many people want an instant cure.


Once again, I just get a sense of seeking a 'miracle cure', which to me just sounds like someone trying to scan others. I am not saying that you are trying to scam people. But, there are already pretty instant cures out there today. Ones that shift the ammonia ammonium balance really quickly. Bottles with instant cycling in them. And, some of these work better than others.

But, if the desires expressed above are genuine about wanting to spread the knowledge to as many people as possible, then I don't think that an instant cure is compatible. Because having an instant cure means that people won't need to learn the proper knowledge and caretaking. Why would they need any more knowledge than the instant cure?

So, all in all, I think that there are some misconceptions or at least two fairly different points of view here. It may just be that trying to type things out over a forum are leading to these misconceptions. I do not see how anecdote from hobbyists can be any kind of replacement for a scientific method -- and in short, if you don't think that the scientists are studying the right things, then your work can change that. But, you will have to do it scientifically, with good controlled experiments and solid data gathering and analysis.




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