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Chemical environmental control FAQ

BOD and COD of wastewaters

Wastewater quality indicators
Posted: 1 Dec 05 (Edited 3 Jan 06)

Any oxidizable material present in a natural waterway or in an industrial wastewater will be oxidized both by biochemical (bacterial) or chemical processes.  The result is that the oxygen content of the water will be decreased.  Basically, the reaction for biochemical oxidation may be written as:

Oxidizable material + bacteria + nutrient + O2  ==>  CO2 + H2O + oxidized inorganics such as NO3 or SO4

Oxygen consumption by reducing chemicals such as sulfides and nitrites is typified as follows:

S-- + 2 O2  ==>  SO4--
NO2- + 0.5 O2  ==>  NO3-


Since all natural waterways contain bacteria and nutrient, almost any waste compounds introduced into such waterways will initiate biochemical reactions (such as shown above).  Those biochemical reactions create what is measured in the laboratory as the Biochemical or Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD).

Oxidizable chemicals (such as reducing chemicals) introduced into a natural water will similarly initiate chemical reactions (such as shown above).  Those chemical reactions  create what is measured in the laboratory as the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).

Both the BOD and COD tests are a measure of the relative oxygen-depletion effect of a waste contaminant.  Both have been widely adopted as a measure of pollution effect. The BOD test measures the oxygen demand of biodegradable pollutants whereas the COD test measures the oxygen demand of biogradable pollutants plus the oxygen demand of non-biodegradable oxidizable pollutants.

The so-called 5-day BOD measures the amount of oxygen consumed by biochemical oxidation of waste contaminants in a 5-day period.  The total amount of oxygen consumed when the biochemical reaction is allowed to proceed to completion is called the Ultimate BOD.  The Ultimate BOD is too time consuming, so the 5-day BOD has almost universally been adopted as a measure of relative pollution effect.

There are also many different COD tests.  Perhaps, the most common is the 4-hour COD.

It should be emphasized that there is no generalized correlation between the 5-day BOD and the Ultimate BOD.  Likewise, there is no generalized correlation between BOD and COD.  It is possible to develop such correlations for a specific waste contaminant in a specific water stream ... but such correlations cannot be generalized for use with any other waste contaminants or any other water streams.

If you want more details, read "Aqueous Wastes from Petroleum and Petrochemical Plants" published by John Wiley & Sons in 1967.  It is no longer available for sale but it  is available in most university libraries.

The laboratory tests for the obtaining the above oxygen demands are detailed in the following sections of the "Standard Methods For the Examination Of Water and Wastewater" available at www.standardmethods.org:

(a) 5-day BOD and Ultimate BOD: Sections 5210B and 5210C
(b) COD: Section 5220

Milton Beychok
(Visit me at www.air-dispersion.com)


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