John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Bioavailability of cyanide and metal–cyanide mixtures to aquatic life


Cyanide can be toxic to aquatic organisms, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed ambient water‐quality criteria for to protect aquatic life. Recent work suggests that considering free, rather than total, cyanide provides a more accurate measure of the biological effects of cyanides and provides a basis for water‐quality criteria. Aquatic organisms are sensitive to free cyanide, although certain metals can form stable complexes and reduce the amount of free cyanide. As a result, total cyanide is less toxic when complexing metals are present. Cyanide is often present in complex effluents, which requires an understanding of how other components within these complex effluents can affect cyanide speciation and bioavailability. The authors have developed a model to predict the aqueous speciation of cyanide and have shown that this model can predict the toxicity of metal–cyanide complexes in terms of free cyanide in solutions with varying water chemistry. Toxicity endpoints based on total cyanide ranged over several orders of magnitude for various metal–cyanide mixtures. However, predicted free cyanide concentrations among these same tests described the observed toxicity data to within a factor of 2. Aquatic toxicity can be well‐described using free cyanide, and under certain conditions the toxicity was jointly described by free cyanide and elevated levels of bioavailable metals. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. © 2012 SETAC

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