17 Dec 2020

Determination of low environmental free cyanide concentrations in freshwaters

Cyanide compounds are naturally emitted into the environment in low levels by degradation processes or emitted from anthropogenic sources. In surface water, complex cyanide compounds as well as “free cyanide” are present. The latter term covers hydrogen cyanide and cyanide compounds which easily liberate hydrogen cyanide under slightly acidic conditions. Especially free cyanide may cause adverse effects in the environment. To exclude negative impacts on freshwater systems, in the context of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), preventive regulatory activities for free cyanide are currently under discussion. However, established analytical methods for quantification of free cyanide only obtain limits of quantification (LOQs) in the range of 1 μg L−1.

Thus, these methods are not sufficiently sensitive for a potential environmental quality standard (EQS) compliance monitoring at water concentrations below the current predicted no effect concentration (PNEC) level of free cyanide. In the present study, a standardized continuous flow analysis (CFA) method for quantification of low free cyanide concentrations was adapted by applying a special system which allows an ultra-sensitive photometric detection of a colored cyanide derivative. By this means, LOQs in a range of one magnitude below the PNEC are achievable.

The method was validated according to ISO/IEC 17025 requirements. Free cyanide concentrations in tested surface water samples from a small river and a barrier lake with low anthropogenic influences were very low and clearly below the PNEC. The results prove that the adapted CFA method is suitable for the analysis of low concentration free cyanide in freshwaters and appropriate for a possible EQS compliance monitoring.

Environmental Science and Pollution Research (2020) © 2020

B. Knopf, H. Rüdel, D. Hansknecht, T. Klawonn and K. Kreuzer. Published by Springer.

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