Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Environmental Pollution and Ecotoxicology in North Carolina

Current Topics

Recommendations for Protecting Freshwater Mussels from Ammonia Toxicity

The November 2003 issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry contained five articles in a special section on the effects of ammonia on freshwater unionid mussels. The peer reviewed articles include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and university authors and reviewers. The papers include data indicating that freshwater mussels are among the most sensitive aquatic animals tested for ammonia toxicity.

Freshwater mussel data are not included in the current database for calculation of the water quality criteria for ammonia. The new data indicate that freshwater mussels are sensitive to ammonia relative to other invertebrates and fishes, and that the current numeric criteria may not be protective of mussels, many of whose nearly 300 species are in widespread decline in North America.

There are nine species of freshwater mussels listed as endangered or threatened in North Carolina. Because ammonia is a common pollutant and mussels are an important taxa, staff in our office helped coordinate a paper which uses existing data to derive estimates of ammonia concentrations that would not be harmful to mussels. Reprints of that article can be requested from this office. We are working the State and federal water quality management agencies to address this concern.

Papers in the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry series:

  • Newton TJ. 2003. The effects of ammonia on freshwater unionid mussels. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2543-2544.
  • Mummert AK, RJ Neves, TJ Newcomb and DS Cherry. 2003. Sensitivity of juvenile freshwater mussels (Lampsilis fasciola, Villosa iris) to total and un-ionized ammonia. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2545-2553.
  • Newton TJ, JW Allran, JA O’Donnell, MR Bartsch and WB Richardson. 2003. Effects of ammonia on juvenile unionid mussels (Lampsilis cardium) in laboratory sediment toxicity tests. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2554-2560.
  • Bartsch MR, TJ Newton, JW Allran, JA O’Donnell and WB Richardson. 2003. Effects of pore-water ammonia on in situ survival and growth of juvenile mussels (Lampsilis cardium) in the St. Croix Riverway, Wisconsin, USA. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2561-2568.
  • Augspurger T, AE Keller, MC Black, WG Cope and FJ Dwyer. 2003. Water quality guidance for protection of freshwater mussels (Unionidae) from ammonia exposure. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2569-2575. abstract for this paper (13 KB)

Links to partners in freshwater mussel conservation

Program Contacts

Tom Augspurger, Ecologist, 919-856-4520 ext. 21

Sara Ward, Ecologist, 919-856-4520 ext. 30

Last Updated: August 6, 2015