Toxicity of ammonia to algae in sewage oxidation ponds

A. Abeliovich, Y. Azov

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223 Scopus citations


Ammonia, at concentrations over 2.0 mM and at pH values over 8.0, inhibits photosynthesis and growth of Scenedesmus obliquus, a dominant species in high rate sewage oxidation ponds. Photosynthesis of Chlorella pyrenoidosa, Anacystis nidulans, and Plectonema boryanum is also susceptible to ammonia inhibition. Dark respiration and cell morphology were unaffected by any combination of pH and ammonia concentrations tested, thus limiting the apparent effect to inhibition of the normal function of the chloroplasts. Methylamine had the same effect as ammonia, and its penetration into the cells was found to be pH dependent. Therefore, the dependence of toxicity of amines to algae on pH apparently results from the inability to penetrate the cell membrane in the ionized form. When operated at 120 hr detention time of raw wastewater, the high rate oxidation pond maintained a steady state with respect to algal growth and oxygen concentration, and the concentration of ammonia did not exceed 1.0 mM. Shifting the pond to 48 h detention time caused an increase in ammonia concentration in the pond water to 2.5 mM, and the pond gradually turned anaerobic. Photosynthesis, which usually elevates the pH of the pond water to 9.0 to 10.0, could not proceed beyond pH 7.9 because of the high concentration of ammonia, and the algal population was washed out and reduced to a concentration that could maintain a doubling time of 48 h without photosynthesis bringing the pH to inhibitory levels. Under these conditions, the pH of the pond becomes a factor that limits the operational efficiency of the oxidation pond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)801-806
Number of pages6
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1976
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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