Does Prime actually "Detoxify" free ammonia, NH3?

taricha

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This started when @Dan_P was looking at measuring NH3 with seneye and was curious about performance near zero NH3. I suggested trying Prime to artificially zero out the NH3 sensor, and the results were weird... so I checked with my seachem kit.

Prime by Seachem is commonly used to treat tap water, it dechlorinates Chlorine and Chloramine. This effect is strong and easily measurable by test kits.

But Prime also claims that it "...detoxifies ammonia. Prime® converts ammonia into a safe, non-toxic form that is readily removed by the tank’s biofilter." They say that the normal dose of Prime can detoxify 1ppm ammonia.

NH3 is the toxic form of ammonia, which under normal tank conditions is a tiny part of the total ammonia (Randy's Article for details). Most chemical kits measure total ammonia - NH3+NH4, and so seachem says that these kits can't detect the effect of Prime to detoxify NH3. And one should instead use a test method that measures only free ammonia - NH3 instead, according to Seachem - such as their kit.
"However, the best solution ;-) is to use our MultiTest™ Ammonia kit; it uses a gas exchange sensor system which is not affected by the presence of Prime® or other similar products. It also has the added advantage that it can detect the more dangerous free ammonia and distinguish it from total ammonia (total ammonia is both free ammonia and non-toxic ionized forms of ammonia)."

So here we go.

I pulled a liter of tank water, spiked it with ammonia to ~1ppm total ammonia.
20210802_160941 (1).jpg

API at 5 min confirms it's in the ballpark of 0.5-1ppm total ammonia.


Then I dosed a drop of Prime from two separate bottles (one new unopened) into the 1L of water. Approximately a double dose from each for a cumulative 4x dose of Prime and stirred.

After 30 minutes, I then used the ammonia sensing films from the seachem kit to see if the measured free ammonia, NH3 was decreased by the "detoxifying" effect of Prime.
The ammonia sensing discs are supposed to be read at 15 or 30 minutes to determine free ammonia.
Seachem_ammonia_prime.jpg

Each beaker has ~75mL of sample water.
Bottom left is tank water only - clean zero
Two in the middle top and bottom are replicates of tank water +1ppm total ammonia - disks form a color as they should, approximately consistent with 1ppm total ammonia at ~8.0pH (maybe around 0.05 on the top 30 minute scale of the color card)
Top right beaker is tank water +1ppm total ammonia +4x dose of Prime - the disk forms exactly the same color as the samples that were not treated with Prime. The same amount of NH3 is apparently present.

So according to Seachem's free ammonia kit, Seachem Prime does not do anything to decrease toxic free ammonia, NH3. If it has any effect, it's gone within 30 minutes.

(BTW, when I overdose prime to 30x recommended dose, it still didn't decrease the NH3 measured.)

Maybe Prime worked better for @Dan_P measuring with the Seneye NH3 sensing device???

Update: see Dan's measured zero effect from Prime with two more ammonia detecting kits in post number 16

Update: Amphipods seem to fare equally poorly when exposed to NH3, whether treated with Prime or not. post number 44
 
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brandon429

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amazing study

talk about a hobby shocker, those are the best posts. take your paradigms and boot them out the window post = heart emoji.
 

Dan_P

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This started when @Dan_P was looking at measuring NH3 with seneye and was curious about performance near zero NH3. I suggested trying Prime to artificially zero out the NH3 sensor, and the results were weird... so I checked with my seachem kit.

Prime by Seachem is commonly used to treat tap water, it dechlorinates Chlorine and Chloramine. This effect is strong and easily measurable by test kits.

But Prime also claims that it "...detoxifies ammonia. Prime® converts ammonia into a safe, non-toxic form that is readily removed by the tank’s biofilter." They say that the normal dose of Prime can detoxify 1ppm ammonia.

NH3 is the toxic form of ammonia, which under normal tank conditions is a tiny part of the total ammonia (Randy's Article for details). Most chemical kits measure total ammonia - NH3+NH4, and so seachem says that these kits can't detect the effect of Prime to detoxify NH3. And one should instead use a test method that measures only free ammonia - NH3 instead, according to Seachem - such as their kit.
"However, the best solution ;-) is to use our MultiTest™ Ammonia kit; it uses a gas exchange sensor system which is not affected by the presence of Prime® or other similar products. It also has the added advantage that it can detect the more dangerous free ammonia and distinguish it from total ammonia (total ammonia is both free ammonia and non-toxic ionized forms of ammonia)."

So here we go.

I pulled a liter of tank water, spiked it with ammonia to ~1ppm total ammonia.
20210802_160941 (1).jpg

API at 5 min confirms it's in the ballpark of 0.5-1ppm total ammonia.


Then I dosed a drop of Prime from two separate bottles (one new unopened) into the 1L of water. Approximately a double dose from each for a cumulative 4x dose of Prime and stirred.

After 30 minutes, I then used the ammonia sensing films from the seachem kit to see if the measured free ammonia, NH3 was decreased by the "detoxifying" effect of Prime.
The ammonia sensing discs are supposed to be read at 15 or 30 minutes to determine free ammonia.
Seachem_ammonia_prime.jpg

Each beaker has ~75mL of sample water.
Bottom left is tank water only - clean zero
Two in the middle top and bottom are replicates of tank water +1ppm total ammonia - disks form a color as they should, approximately consistent with 1ppm total ammonia at ~8.0pH (maybe around 0.05 on the top 30 minute scale of the color card)
Top right beaker is tank water +1ppm total ammonia +4x dose of Prime - the disk forms exactly the same color as the samples that were not treated with Prime. The same amount of NH3 is apparently present.

So according to Seachem's free ammonia kit, Seachem Prime does not do anything to decrease toxic free ammonia, NH3. If it has any effect, it's gone within 30 minutes.

(BTW, when I overdose prime to 30x recommended dose, it still didn't decrease the NH3 measured.)

Maybe Prime worked better for @Dan_P measuring with the Seneye NH3 sensing device???
Jonathan, the short answer is that I found no free ammonia reduction using Prime and measuring free ammonia with the Seneye or Seachem’s Ammonia Alert badge. I used color analysis to track minute changes in the badge’s color. I will pull together some information and pictures tomorrow. By the way I did confirm that Prime neutralizes bleach.
 

brandon429

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rn readers are thinking: but that's saved my tank before?

I like how we never bothered to test the actual mechanism at play without prime being added in the hobby. we accepted peer training as what to do assuming without prime, fish will die in X scenario.
 

Dan_P

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rn readers are thinking: but that's saved my tank before?

I like how we never bothered to test the actual mechanism at play without prime being added in the hobby. we accepted peer training as what to do assuming without prime, fish will die in X scenario.

What’s your experience with Prime? Was it on your shelf when starting a new aquarium?
 

brandon429

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strictly only as post feedback...someone dosed prime in 1,000 cycles reported over the years and then why is my nitrite pegged to the ceiling...

another going rumor is that adding it directly causes nitrite false positives, and much like free ammonia binding even that assumption may be off. Any pico reef I've ever posted online was a cured rock pet store skip cycle so there wasn't a need for me to own it.


its something many cyclers simply input no matter what, even if using RO/DI so its a usual inclusion/possible distraction in our cycling posts where we simply seek an ethical bioload carry date for people who want fast fish carry. a huge segment of the reefing market uses it during water prep and does not disclose it during the cycle, so accepting stated param levels comes with that grain of salt
 

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strictly only as post feedback...someone dosed prime in 1,000 cycles reported over the years and then why is my nitrite pegged to the ceiling...

another going rumor is that adding it directly causes nitrite false positives, and much like free ammonia binding even that assumption may be off. Any pico reef I've ever posted online was a cured rock pet store skip cycle so there wasn't a need for me to own it.


its something many cyclers simply input no matter what, even if using RO/DI so its a usual inclusion/possible distraction in our cycling posts where we simply seek an ethical bioload carry date for people who want fast fish carry. a huge segment of the reefing market uses it during water prep and does not disclose it during the cycle, so accepting stated param levels comes with that grain of salt
Strangely enough, I tested adding prime to tank water earlier today with API, nothin registered there;
 

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brandon429

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100% helpful to see. plainly did not affect reading in the matured reef. google search shows how prominent the rumor is, goes back fifteen years or so online.
 

Dan_P

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Strangely enough, I tested adding prime to tank water earlier today with API, nothin registered there;
Are you saying without Prime you detect nitrite, but with Prime no nitrite detected? If yes, we have to consider that the chlorine neutralizing chemical in Prime neutralizes the reactive intermediate in the nitrite test, essentially killing the test.
 

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What would be the ultimate test? Ion chromatography? Ammonia ISE? Bioassay?

It'd be hilarious if Prime only neutralized chlorine/chloramine despite having the most expansive marketing claims in the industry.

Also, class action for multiple decades of deceptive advertising...
 
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taricha

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Strangely enough, I tested adding prime to tank water earlier today with API, nothin registered there;

we have to consider that the chlorine neutralizing chemical in Prime neutralizes the reactive intermediate in the nitrite test, essentially killing the test.
Prime dechlorinator is very similar to thiosulfate, which I found a tiny bit of to completely wipe out an ammonia and NO2/3 test.
Screen Shot 2021-08-05 at 10.21.49 PM.png

tiny amount of thiosulfate zero'd out the color of both API ammonia, and Red Sea NO3.
Prime likely interferes with chemical kits, which complicates measurement and obscures what it does/doesn't do.
 
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taricha

taricha

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What would be the ultimate test? Ion chromatography? Ammonia ISE? Bioassay?
If kits that are only NH3 sensitive can detect that Prime does not change the amount of NH3, is a bioassay really necessary? Do we think it might be some special kind of harmless NH3?
Serious question, as I was trying to think of the least objectionable way to do a bioassay.
 

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Fascinating because here Prime shows to negate nitrite here and in the search returns on google they report spikes. the stated over reports aren’t any sort of proof, but its fascinating how word of mouth travels within procedural evolution. Posts like this provide a core balance.


there are several trending beliefs in the posting masses that aren’t always testing out to be accurately held, looks like another potential finding here. I remain shocked by being simply unable to find an example of a failed fish-in cycle using bottle bac. Given the consequences of advised mis-cycling, I expected to at least find twenty examples to read about. I can find no instance in documentation lol where fish weren’t carried just fine by someone’s bottle bac, from day one.


Agreed dead bottles of bac exist, but sub in whatever unstated benefit has carried all these saved tanks using Prime and that’s why nobody has trouble with fish-in cycling, at least at the start. When velvet kicks in, trouble arrives
 
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Dan_P

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My observations as promised.

I examined the ability of Prime to reduce the amount of free ammonia with two different colorimetric films. One is contained in the Seneye device which also has a built in photometer to assess the color of the film and translate that into ppm of free ammonia. The second film is the Seachem Ammonia Alert badge. It too changes color as a function of the amount of ammonia in solution, but to convert color change to ppm of ammonia, the user is required to match the film color to reference color patches. To increase the sensitivity of ammonia measurement with the badge, I performed a color analysis on the film to detect color changes smaller than the eye can. The calibration curve below (open triangles) demonstrates how well the Seachem film color tracks free ammonia changes. We will discuss the orange filled circles on the plot next.

2D82FC8E-69BC-4B11-A6C8-5DBE44AE709B.png


I repeated @taricha experiment, adding the Seachem ammonia sensing film 30 minutes after mixing aquarium water with ammonia (Hach multi parameter reference standard) and Prime. The film started to develop a color minutes after first being placed in this solution. The color was fully developed in 15-30 minutes (see photo below). The two orange points on the calibration curve above correspond to the color analysis of the Seachem film 31 and 73 minutes after the film was placed in solution. Clearly, there was no detectable change in free ammonia.

0EA46BF8-7960-45BD-993B-E7F5F03B6223.jpeg


The Seneye tells a similar story. When a dose of Prime is added to aquarium water spiked with ~0.5 total ammonia, there is only a slight decline in free ammonia, but there is no dose response (see plot below). To test whether the Seneye film was affected by Prime, after one of the experiments, the ammonia level was changed and the film responded as expected.

64AF7848-2D70-4006-90D5-7FD0C4C1A811.png


I have to conclude that our data, based on three different colorimetric films, makes a strong case for Prime doing little or nothing to reduce ammonia concentration.
 
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taricha

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To increase the sensitivity of ammonia measurement with the badge, I performed a color analysis on the film to detect color changes smaller than the eye can.

2D82FC8E-69BC-4B11-A6C8-5DBE44AE709B.png


The two orange points on the calibration curve above correspond to the color analysis of the Seachem film 31 and 73 minutes after the film was placed in solution. Clearly, there was no detectable change in free ammonia.

hah.
So the detailed quantification using digital eyeballs nails the amount of NH3 decrease by Prime to be pretty precisely zero.
Not just less than the claimed 1ppm ammonia it can detoxify. Zero.
 

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hah.
So the detailed quantification using digital eyeballs nails the amount of NH3 decrease by Prime to be pretty precisely zero.
Not just less than the claimed 1ppm ammonia it can detoxify. Zero.

Does Seachem actually claim 1 ppm?
 

Dan_P

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Does Seachem actually claim 1 ppm?
They did in an email from tech support

”The standard dose will remove 4 mg/L of Chloramine, 5 mg/L chlorine and will detoxify 1ppm of ammonia and 2 ppm of nitrite and nitrate.”

Pretty good, right?
 

Malcontent

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If kits that are only NH3 sensitive can detect that Prime does not change the amount of NH3, is a bioassay really necessary? Do we think it might be some special kind of harmless NH3?
Serious question, as I was trying to think of the least objectionable way to do a bioassay.

It's hard to imagine a way for Seachem to weasel out of this one since they say you need their tests to be able to distinguish between ionized/bound and unionized/unbound ammonia.

I think a bioassay would be more definitive. Maybe daphnia?
 

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