The combined effects of chlorine and ammonia on litter breakdown in outdoor experimental streams

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The response of Potamogeton crispus L. breakdown to controlled doses of different levels of chlorine and chlorine + ammonia was investigated over two years in outdoor experimental streams. In 1985, downstream riffles of 2 streams were dosed (observed in-stream concentrations) at ca. 10 μg/L Total Residual Chlorine (TRC), one stream at 64 μg/L TRC and one stream at 230 μg/L TRC. Two control streams were not dosed and the upstream riffles of each stream served as within stream controls. In 1986, the downstream riffle of one stream was dosed at 70 μg/L TRC and a second stream was dosed at 200 μg/L TRC. Four streams were also dosed with 2.5 mg/L NH3-N: one stream with no chlorine, one stream with ca. 10 μg/L TRC, one with 56 μg/L TRC, and one with 150 μg/L TRC. A seventh stream was dosed for 2 h at 2000 μg/L TRC and 2.5 mg/L ammonia and then allowed to recover (recovery stream). Each year, litter decomposition (degree day k values) was measured during two 35 day trials (Jun-Jul and Aug-Sep). In 1985, when streams were dosed with chlorine alone, decomposition was significantly reduced with the high (230 μg/L TRC) chlorine dose. Downstream decomposition was 27% (Jun-Jul) and 59% (Aug-Sep) of the upstream (control) rate. No other chlorine effects were found during this period. In Jun-Jul 1986, there was significantly lower decomposition in the downstream dosed sites of the 200 μg/L TRC alone stream, the 146 μg/L TRC + ammonia stream and the recovery stream; downstream decay rates were (respectively) 56%, 42% and 64% of the upstream control sites. No other up-down pairs were different in July 1986. In Aug-Sep, all three streams with chlorine + ammonia (6, 56 and 146 μg/L TRC + 2,5 mg/L ammonia) and the 70 μg/L TRC alone stream had significantly lower decomposition rates in the downstream dosed sites. For these streams, downstream decay rates ranged from 46% (high chlorine + ammonia) to 73% (low chlorine + ammonia) of the upstream control rates. No other up-down pairs were different during this trial. Up and downstream sites of the stream dosed with 2.5 mg/L ammonia alone were nearly identical for both trials (< 3% difference). These results indicate that TRC at less than 250 μg/L can significantly reduce litter decomposition and strongly suggest that addition of ammonia to chlorinated water can increase the toxic effect of chlorine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-78
Number of pages10
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 1 1989


  • Potamogeton crispus L.
  • ammonia
  • chlorine
  • chronic toxicity
  • streams


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