Effect of zeolite on toxicity of ammonia in freshwater sediments: Implications for toxicity identification evaluation procedures

John M. Besser, Christopher G. Ingersoll, Edward N. Leonard, David R. Mount

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Techniques for reducing ammonia toxicity in freshwater sediments were investigated as part of a project to develop toxicity identification and evaluation (TIE) procedures for whole sediments. Although ammonia is a natural constituent of freshwater sediments, pollution can lead to ammonia concentrations that are toxic to benthic invertebrates, and ammonia can also contribute to the toxicity of sediments that contain more persistent contaminants. We investigated the use of amendments of a natural zeolite mineral, clinoptilolite, to reduce concentrations of ammonia in sediment pore water. Zeolites have been widely used for removal of ammonia in water treatment and in aqueous TIE procedures. The addition of granulated zeolite to ammonia-spiked sediments reduced pore-water ammonia concentrations and reduced ammonia toxicity to invertebrates. Amendments of 20% zeolite (v/v) reduced ammonia concentrations in pore water by ≥70% in spiked sediments with ammonia concentrations typical of contaminated freshwater sediments. Zeolite amendments reduced toxicity of ammonia-spiked sediments to three taxa of benthic invertebrates (Hyalella azteca, Lumbriculus variegatus, and Chironomus tentans), despite their widely differing sensitivity to ammonia toxicity. In contrast, zeolite amendments did not reduce acute toxicity of sediments containing high concentrations of cadmium or copper or reduce concentrations of these metals in pore waters. These studies suggest that zeolite amendments, used in conjunction with toxicity tests with sensitive taxa such as H. azteca, may be an effective technique for selective reduction of ammonia toxicity in freshwater sediments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2310-2317
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1998


  • Ammonia
  • Sediment toxicity
  • Toxicity identification
  • Zeolite Metals


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