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Chemical oxygen demand

In environmental chemistry, the chemical oxygen demand (COD) test is commonly used to indirectly measure the amount of organic compounds in water. Most applications of COD determine the amount of organic pollutants found in surface water (e.g. lakes and rivers), making COD a useful measure of water quality. It is expressed in milligrams per liter (mg/L), which indicates the mass of oxygen consumed per liter of solution. Older references may express the units as parts per million (ppm).


The basis for the COD test is that nearly all organic compounds can be fully oxidized to carbon dioxide with a strong oxidizing agent underacidic conditions. The amount of oxygen required to oxidize an organic compound to carbon dioxide, ammonia, and water is given by:


This expression does not include the oxygen demand caused by the oxidation of ammonia into nitrate. The process of ammonia being converted into nitrate is referred to as nitrification. The following is the correct equation for the oxidation of ammonia into nitrate.


The second equation should be applied after the first one to include oxidation due to nitrification if the oxygen demand from nitrification must be known. Dichromate does not oxidize ammonia into nitrate, so this nitrification can be safely ignored in the standard chemical oxygen demand test.

The International Organization for Standardization describes a standard method for measuring chemical oxygen demand in ISO 6060 [1].


For many years, the strong oxidizing agent potassium permanganate (KMnO4) was used for measuring chemical oxygen demand. Measurements were called oxygen consumed from permanganate, rather than the oxygen demand of organic substances. Potassium permanaganate's effectiveness at oxidizing organic compounds varied widely, and in many cases biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) measurements were often much greater than results from COD measurements. This indicated that...