Buck Scientific Inc

Analysis of Anionic Contamination & General Quality Testing in Water from Sewage Treatment Plants and Industrial Discharge & Effluents by Colorimetry


Courtesy of Buck Scientific Inc


The high concentration of Industry, Agriculture and People in and around the United States has changed the “nature” of our environment. There are Toxic Metals coming from various metallurgical processes; Plating, Foundry, Smelting, Milling, etc., which are readily determined by Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS). Volatile Organics from the many Petrochemical-based operations are accurately monitored by Gas Chromatography (GC). Both Commercial and Natural activities can create potentially harmful concentrations of ANIONIC contaminants that may have hazardous environmental impact. While there are a variety of analytical techniques to measure these components, such as Ion-Selective Electrode (ISE) and Ion Chromatography (I-C); the most widely used and governmentally approved technique is Colorimetry with an UV-Visible Spectrophotometer (UV-Vis). There are significant interferences with both ISE and I-C, and while I-C has lower detection limits than ISE; it is also the most expensive technique and is still not universally accepted as an ANION method.

Soaps and Detergents primarily, with Metal Finishing, Paper Mills and the Cement / Concrete industry, too; contribute Phosphate and Surfactant contamination. Incomplete sewage treatment, or excess fertilizer use can create high Nitrate levels in soils and waters. Bacterial activity and reducing conditions in soils cause the formation of Nitrites. Sulfide comes from anaerobic microbial activity. Total Alkalinity is a measure of run-off contamination. Chloride is an indication of seawater & river crossover into the municipal water table or reservoir. Chlorine & Fluoride are used in water treatment. Chlorophyll indicates algeal and plankton growth in poorly treated water. Fortunately, these materials, and more, have methods of analysis defined for Spectrophotometry.


For many years, the USEPA, the American Water-Works Association (AWWA), the American Public Health Association (APHA) and most State Health & Environmental departments; have detailed specific procedures for rapid and simple reactions to generate highly accurate 'colors' with specific components that allow simple measurements with inexpensive spectrophotometers. Usual procedures involve adding reagents to a known volume of the Sample water, waiting briefly for a color to develop and transferring some of the final solution of an inexpensive Cuvette. This is placed in the Spectrophotometer and the ABSORBANCE at a specific wavelength is compared relative to a known Reference Standard solution to get a concentration.


A listing of the current methods for a group of the most popular Anion & Quality Tests for Water are shown on the reverse, with an example of a Calibration Curve and some actual sample data obtained on the Buck Scientific Model 4004 Water Quality UV-Vis Spectrophotometer with built-in Calibration for over 200 water tests. The Cell Holder allows standard 10mm square cuvettes, as well as the less expensive 16mm test tube, to be used for the analysis.

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