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Insights to False Positive Total Cyanide Measurements in Wastewater Plant Effluents

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Many publicly owned treatment works in North America are exceeding permitted limits for total cyanide in their wastewater treatment effluents. A recently introduced rapid, segmented, flow-injection analysis procedure using UV digestion and amperometric detection of the membrane-separated cyanide was used to investigate the various scenarios by which elevated cyanide levels might be present in wastewater treatment plant effluent. A number of significant interferences can produce false positive bias during sample analysis with the traditional acid distillation technique, but are minimized or absent with the new analytical method. However, increased levels of cyanide were found in some chlorinated wastewaters compared to the levels before chlorination, suggesting a fast reaction mechanism associated with the disinfectant and some precursor in the wastewater. In particular, the contact of chlorine with nitrite in the presence of a carbon precursor appears to contribute to cyanide formation during wastewater treatment and sample handling. This paper explores the scenarios under which cyanide can form during wastewater treatment as well as those in which a false bias for total cyanide can be obtained during sample processing and provides guidance for appropriate sample handling, screening, and processing to ensure valid analytical results.

Keywords: chlorination; flow injection; free cyanide; nitrite; sulfide; thiocyanate; total cyanide; wastewater

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2005-09-01

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  • Water Environment Research (WER) is published monthly, including an annual Literature Review. A subscription to WER includes access to the latest content back to 1992, as well as access to fast track articles. An individual subscription is valid for 12 months from month of purchase.

    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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