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Formation of Free Cyanide and Cyanogen Chloride from Chloramination of Publicly Owned Treatment Works Secondary Effluent: Laboratory Study with Model Compounds

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The potential generation of cyanide species in wastewater upon chlorination in the presence of residual ammonia (resulting in chloramine formation) was investigated in experiments with synthetic solutions and publicly owned treatment works (POTW) secondary effluent. This study demonstrated that low concentrations (approximately 5 to 25 μg/L as cyanide) of cyanogen chloride (CNCl), a highly toxic cyanide species not measured in total or free cyanide analyses, could be detected as a result of chloramination reactions in POTW secondary effluent. The potential for chloramination of nitrogen-bearing organic compounds to yield CNCl and/or free cyanide was demonstrated in experiments with synthetic solutions spiked with selected precursor organics: L-serine, benzene, catechin, and humic acid. The amino acid L-serine yielded the largest concentrations of CNCl upon chloramination. Additionally, detectable cyanide (approximately 10 μ/L) was observed in solutions of L-serine and in POTW secondary effluent that was chloraminated followed by dechlorination to prevent destruction of any free cyanide produced. Thus, chlorination of POTW secondary effluent containing residual ammonia can lead to chloramination of organic compounds and the resulting production of CNCl and free cyanide.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2004

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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