Report No DWI0060

March 1981



This is the final report on the investigations into the chemical oxygen demand (COD) method, which were made during the period October 1977 October 1980.

Basically, the test (1) consists in heating, under reflux, a mixture of the water sample (10 ml), potassium dichromate (0.0208M:5 ml) and a solution of silver(I) sulphate in concentrated sulphuric acid (1% m/V:15 ml); if the sample contains more than 500 mg l-1 chloride, then mercury(II) sulphate (20% m/V:1 ml) is also added. The mixture is heated under reflux for two hours and the residual dichromate is determined by titration with ammonium iron(II) sulphate. The COD of the sample is defined in terms of the "oxygen equivalent" of the oxidizing agent reduced and is expressed in mg/l.

Although the COD test has been used in its present form for many years, there are still some aspects which are unsatisfactory. The major problem is the interfering effect of chloride ions. Mercury(II) sulphate is added to the COD test mixture to suppress the oxidation of chloride ions; however, some chloride is still oxidized, causing an apparent increase in COD. As well as this, the chlorine formed may interact with some of the organic compounds in the sample, introducing a further error in the COD. Another problem is that some organic compounds, notably benzene, pyridine and its derivatives, are not completely oxidized under the conditions of the COD test.

A programme of research was defined in conjunction with the North West Water Authority to try to overcome the faults in the COD test. The programme included investigations to:

  1. identify the factors involved in the chloride interference;

  2. find a method to prevent this interference or reduce it to an acceptable level;

  3. study redox potential changes during the COD test, with special reference to the effect which the presence of chromium(III) salts has and to the oxidation of chloride;

  4. study and define a low-level COD method;

  5. consider the interfering effect of bromide and iodide;

  6. study the behaviour of certain volatile organic nitrogenous bases in the test;

  7. consider the use of alternative oxidants in the test, with particular reference to chloride interference.
Copies of this report may be available as an Acrobat pdf download under the 'Pre 2000 Reports' heading on the DWI website.