Ammonia (NH3)

An elevated ammonia level in a stream or waterway indicates the presence of discharged sewage wastes.  Humans excrete ammonia in their urine.  Ammonia is  a waste product of almost every other life process too--from raccoons to bacteria.

Ammonia is toxic in high concentrations.  As nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia first to nitrite (NO2), then to nitrate (NO3), oxygen in the receiving stream is reduced.  Ammonia and nitrate are nutrients.  They cause algae in the receiving stream to grow rapidly, sometimes leading to eutrophication (over-enrichment with nutrients--an overgrowth of algae, algae dies, bacteria eat the algae, bacteria consume most or all the available oxygen, fish and other life dies).  Again, oxygen is consumed, leading to a deterioration of water quality.

Nitrification with aerobic nitrifying bacteria:

        NH3 ---> (NO2) ---> NO3

Denitrification with anaerobic denitrifying bacteria (nitrosomonas and nitrobactor):

        NO3 ---> N2

Ammonia is commonly tested using a colorimeter or an ion-selective electrode and is measured in mg/L.

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A Collaborative Technology Infusion Team Project between Ocean Springs Middle School, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and the University of Southern Mississippi

Daniel R. Zwerg, CET
Environmental Technology Department