Here Is A Way To Measure Ammonia Accurately

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Dan_P

Dan_P

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I tested this method with the RedSea kit to see how much therapeutic copper levels affected readings and gave a false positive ammonia level of about 10x (0.05 ppm before copper, 0.5 ppm after). It maxed out the ULR P and had to use the Hanna alk checker. Do you chemistry folks know why that is? Would using the API kit be any different?
If the copper is chelated with NH3 that would do it. Copper can chelate 4 NH3 I think. Also, other nitrogen containing chelating agents could interfere with this method.
 
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Dan_P

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@Dan_P @taricha Good stuff!!

Important point that some may not know is that this is a NH4/NH3 (ammonium/ammonia) test and the fractions of each are pH dependent. With high pH having a higher fraction of NH3. *In fact it's a good idea if a stocked tank is producing truly detectable NH4/NH3 to lower the pH to 7.8 with HCl/hydrochloric acid/muriatic acid.

*must know what you're doing as can truly make things so much worse

Good points!

The title should have read “accurate measurement of total ammonia” and I should have reproduced the Red Sea table showing the % free ammonia for a given pH and temperature.
 

taricha

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I tested this method with the RedSea kit to see how much therapeutic copper levels affected readings and gave a false positive ammonia level of about 10x (0.05 ppm before copper, 0.5 ppm after). It maxed out the ULR P and had to use the Hanna alk checker. Do you chemistry folks know why that is? Would using the API kit be any different?
Like Dan said, this total ammonia test method is reactive (to varying degrees) with some organic nitrogen forms - usually it's small and we can ignore it. apparently not in this case. Red Sea and API will not differ here.

Seachem makes an ammonia kit that uses tiny color change discs that can be used (without the high pH drops) to react with free ammonia only. in that way they don't use any real reaction done on the sample water that would change the NH3 / NH4 / free / bound / complexed / whatever. So it can be used to see if the results of a total ammonia test line up with free ammonia amounts.

After spending some time with the kit trying to turn these little color discs into precise free ammonia measures, I would just say they are useful for ballpark measures, but not precise calculations. But they would totally tell you whether there is real significant free ammonia in the copper-treated water, or if as Dan says, the N is actually bound in the copper additive and not dangerous NH3.

(similar story will be true for using water conditioners to treat ammonia/chloramine containing water. Total Ammonia test will find it, a passive free ammonia membrane like the seachem discs / seneye ought to correctly tell you there isn't any).



Important point that some may not know is that this is a NH4/NH3 (ammonium/ammonia) test and the fractions of each are pH dependent. With high pH having a higher fraction of NH3. *In fact it's a good idea if a stocked tank is producing truly detectable NH4/NH3 to lower the pH to 7.8 with HCl/hydrochloric acid/muriatic acid.

*must know what you're doing as can truly make things so much worse
Having had that issue happen recently - rapid ammonia producing event when I was too busy to go hunt through my system for the dead fish, I could have used this idea.
I didn't think about playing the pH game, and instead I added Prime water conditioner to bind the ammonia being produced and cut my losses.
This might be a more comfortable option for those who don't know what we're doing.
 

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That's a nessler kit and though nessler kits can work in saltwater, the sensitivity is generally lower than the salicylate kits we are using.
See illustration here
Pic comparison
Nessler is based on mercury - all of these type of test are banned in Scandinavia and will sooner or later be banned in EU.

For me - NH3/NH4 is not the problem - there is many different organisms that are able to oxidize NH3/NH4 into NO2 (bacteria, fungus, archaea and other organisms including organism using photosynthesis) but there is only a few bacteria groups that are nitrite oxidizers. The toxicity of the NH3/NH4 complex is also pH depended. If you do not use Chemical NH3/NH4 additions and instead let the system mature with organisms and a very, very low feed rate - it will not be any upbuild of toxic NH3 levels before the first step start. I´m more interested of what low rate of the second step can create in the long run

Sincerely Lasse
 

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