Hidden toxins in tank water..? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-22-2005, 06:18 AM Thread Starter
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Hidden toxins in tank water..?

On a regular basis, I see mention of the hidden toxins and metabolic byproducts that build up in tank water between water changes. Usually they are mentioned with Nitrates as the stuff that goes out with a water change.

Although I have seen these hidden toxins mentioned many times, I have yet to see any detailed information on what they are composed of. Has anyone ever seen a study to determine what they are? Or does anyone know of any web pages that discuss them? I know it's difficult to test for many of the more exotic compounds, but I am sure that somewhere some obsessed aquarium afficiando must have tried. ;-)

I tried a Google search on the topic, but it's so vague that I got nothing but pages of the same thing repeated over and over, that being discussions of doing regular water changes. But me being the stubborn and annoying skeptical type that I am, I just have to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.
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post #2 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-22-2005, 08:49 AM
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Well, you're familiar with the common toxins - ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, in descending level of toxicity.

The next culprit is Total Dissolved/Suspended Organics. Better known as proteins.

You'll find it incredibly difficult to find info on specific proteins. That's because none of them are significantly toxic. But a high level of dissolved proteins, of ANY kind, acts as an irritant to the gills.

Us freshwater types don't worry about proteins, because we just throw them out with our regular water changes. But if you have a saltwater aquarium you don't change the water as often, because it's expensive. Each water change requires a lot of salt, and I don't mean just regular sodium chloride. I'm talking about evaporated seawater or a synthetic substitute containing many different salts and elements. And that's why they use protein skimmers, to keep the water healthy for extended periods of time.

If you want more info on factors in closed freshwater systems, try searching for "recirculating aquaculture". Here is a good document to get you started.

If you *still* want more info, I suggest a trip to your local university's library or biology department. They will have much more in-depth information than you can ever find on the Internet.
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post #3 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-22-2005, 12:22 PM
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here's a new one I heard over at SimplyDiscus...one major reason why the discus fanatics (most of the barebottom owners) change water so frequently is to reduce the "growth inhibiting hormones" released by discus...I though it was just to keep the water clean after feeding beef heart and high protein foods/waste.

Never heard of allelopathy exhibited by animals....

Re-boot!

Last edited by Georgiadawgger; 12-22-2005 at 02:51 PM.
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post #4 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-22-2005, 01:40 PM
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I associate "Hidden Toxins" as a phrase used by snake oil salesman.


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post #5 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-22-2005, 04:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkCobra
Well, you're familiar with the common toxins - ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, in descending level of toxicity.

If you want more info on factors in closed freshwater systems, try searching for "recirculating aquaculture". Here is a good document to get you started.
Nice response/suggestion/link. I went looking for "recirculating aquaculture" and found another doc from USDA that's noteworthy for having a number of useful tables and graphs:

http://aquanic.org/publicat/usda_rac/efs/srac/452fs.pdf
452fs.pdf (application/pdf Object)
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post #6 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 12:46 AM
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gdawg, ive heard that the alpha discus secreats a growth inhibitor that supposedly keeps the other discus from getting bigger.....and if you removed him, the other discus would start to get larger, but then would stop growing as fast as soon as another discus assumed the alpha role.....i dont know how true this is.......i just figured that big guy eats most of the food so he naturally grows faster
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post #7 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 04:59 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkCobra
The next culprit is Total Dissolved/Suspended Organics. Better known as proteins. You'll find it incredibly difficult to find info on specific proteins. That's because none of them are significantly toxic. But a high level of dissolved proteins, of ANY kind, acts as an irritant to the gills.
Ahhh ok. I have known for a long time that proteins built up, but I never knew why they were a problem. I wouldn't expect much info on any specific protein, unless it had some major specific effect on tank inhabitants. For instance the Discus hormones mentioned lower in this thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkCobra
Us freshwater types don't worry about proteins, because we just throw them out with our regular water changes. But if you have a saltwater aquarium you don't change the water as often, because it's expensive. Each water change requires a lot of salt, and I don't mean just regular sodium chloride. I'm talking about evaporated seawater or a synthetic substitute containing many different salts and elements. And that's why they use protein skimmers, to keep the water healthy for extended periods of time.
Yes, I don't believe I have ever seen a SW tank without a protein skimmer. And I am somewhat aquainted with synthetic sea salt. I used to work at an LFS, and although I've never had a SW tank, I took it upon myself to study SW ingredients. I remember a list of occurrences of the periodic elements in decending order of concentration, but I don't remember much more than that.

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Originally Posted by DarkCobra
If you want more info on factors in closed freshwater systems, try searching for "recirculating aquaculture". Here is a good document to get you started.
That is an *excellent* document..! Just the kind of thing I was looking for... Thanks!

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Originally Posted by DarkCobra
If you *still* want more info, I suggest a trip to your local university's library or biology department. They will have much more in-depth information than you can ever find on the Internet.
I try to stay away from schools as much as possible. I got my lifetime dose in college... My brain is still tired from the alternating periods of neronic growth and destruction... I got sick of being a poor frustrated college student, so I quit and went out and got a job...

But... Perhaps I will take a trip to the library... All that knowledge in one place is strangely both comforting and awe inspiring at the same time... And after I am done looking at the aquatic biology texts, I can toodle over to the periodicals and take a trip down memory lane with copies some National Geographic...
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post #8 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 05:04 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Clone
I associate "Hidden Toxins" as a phrase used by snake oil salesman.
I have always felt that way, too. I find it frustrating that some people's answer for everything is "do a water change" without ever looking deeper into the circumstances. Of course water changes are important, but I like to know what's going on, if only just for the satisfaction of knowing.
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post #9 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 05:05 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by wapfish
Ooooo another good one. Thanks!
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post #10 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 08:02 PM
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SW enthusiasts who don't change water often because it's expensive shouldn't be in the hobby. I do more waterchanges on my SW tanks than my planted. I have a skimmer on 1 of 3, the other two I keep stable by changing 25% every two weeks. One of the reasons for this is many of the mineral elements get depleted in the SW, (which is never evaporated seawater, short reason is that elements that precipitate out during evaporation process do not reconstitute properly when re-hydrated.) So, even if you top-off and/or skim to keep nitrates low and DOCs manageable, you lose alkalinity, calcium, strontium, iodine, etc as the inhabitants use them up. Some "reefers" compensate for this by dosing lost minerals and not changing water, but this usually results in an algae farm instead of a nice aquarium.

The same principles apply to freshwater. Certain elements in the water will get used up, others left there. There is no real "magic" way to process out all the waste, other than waterchanges. In some ways, a planted tank is in a better position to go long-term without waterchanges, because the plants process fish waste for food, unlike most SW creatures, (other than algae. *sigh*) So, though you are losing important trace elements, it is easier to dose them or survive long-term without adding them in a planted tank.

That's not to say slacking on waterchanges is recommended. Besides the organic waste component, there is the matter of the hormones building up in the water. While still theoretical in some aspects, there is growing evidence that stunting is in part affected by growth inhibiting substances produced by the fish.

http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebI...rwLmtChems.htm

There are always people who will "experiment" with aquaria... not doing waterchanges for months on end, seems to happen as often with reefers as with aquatic gardeners. Reefing sometimes utilizes Deep Sand Beds, which performs the function of turning harmful nitrate levels into nitrogen gas, which then escapes the aquarium. It is a matter of some debate, many feel that this gives a false sense of security to the reef aquarist. ("I don't have nitrates, and my pH is good, I don't need a waterchange...") Eventually, the DOCs that are not converted, build up to a level that the system fails, often catastrophically.

I believe the same thing can happen in freshwater tanks, though not as dramatically. Planned closed-loop systems are usually much more stable, because research is done and attention given to balance. But the average aquarist will make neither time nor effort to properly maintain a recirculating system.

All that to say this: IMO, most of the "hidden toxins" are really an accumulation of non-harmful elements to unsafe levels, combined with a depletion of necessary elements... as others have said. LOL!

(please ignore the talkative woman behind the curtain. )

As an interesting note regarding depleted elements... there is a woman in the local aquatic club. She brings loads of plants every month to the meeting for auction. Her plants are healthy, and don't melt when going into a new tank. She has no algae issues. All of her tanks are low tech. She has minimal lighting... in all tanks 1wpg or less, and diffused daylight into the rooms with the tanks. She doesn't use heaters. She has plain old gravel substrate. Yet she is growing moderate light plants, easily, and in good form.

What she does for her tanks: every single week, without fail, she changes 30% of the water. That's it. I suspect there is enough trace mineral and nutrients in the water to feed the plants, and her consistency keeps them happy and healthy in conditions where you would not expect them to grow.
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post #11 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-23-2005, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by sunnysmom
(please ignore the talkative woman behind the curtain. )
Ramble on, girl! I usually learn something when you do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sunnysmom
There are always people who will "experiment" with aquaria... not doing waterchanges for months on end
I did that something like that once.

10 gallon tank, gravel substrate, plastic and real plants, brackish water, ZERO filtration. Was set up hastily to accomodate a pregnant ghost shrimp, with the intent of getting it loaded with algae and such to provide a food source for the young.

Well, the ghost shrimp ended up dying - I later found out it was probably due to lack of iodine. But I still have this nasty tank, and didn't feel like doing anything in particular with it at the time, so I just let it run to see what would happen. No food, no water changes, no fertilizer, nothing but tapwater to replace what evaporated.

As the weeks and months went by, I saw every kind of algae in turn, come and go. I saw tiny white critters in swarms eating the algae, and even tinier black critters that you could only see by scooping out some water in a white cup. I saw strange worms digging in the substrate. One day I opened the top and a dragonfly flew out!

A half-year later, no more critters. And virtually no algae. The experiment was over, and I decided to put the tank into use. I scrubbed the glass, changed the water, and added a filter.

This was the most stable tank I've ever owned. You could do no wrong. Algae was non-existant other than a tiny bit of green spot. You could seriously overstock it, even shut down the filter, and there would be no ammonia/nitrite. It was amazing. It's a pity it blew a seal on the bottom pane one day while I was at work - came home to find it empty.
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post #12 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-24-2005, 01:24 AM
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So your actually saying that if everyone let their tank go to h3ll for a few months and have strange creatures spawn from the tank that it will actually become more stable? I'm not sure i'd enjoy a dragonfly in my house... wow. Interesting bit of information. What do you suspect caused it's stability?
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post #13 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-24-2005, 01:51 AM
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So your actually saying that if everyone let their tank go to h3ll for a few months and have strange creatures spawn from the tank that it will actually become more stable? I'm not sure i'd enjoy a dragonfly in my house... wow. Interesting bit of information. What do you suspect caused it's stability?
The strange critters had to have come from the live plants. I always knew they had hitchhikers like snails, but the other five species came as a surprise to me. Especially the dragonfly - the last thing you expect when opening your hood is for something large to FLY OUT! This tank had no fish; if it had, they probably would have eaten all the critters.

Many people have reported that they have problems in new tanks, and that tanks get better with age. The stability of this tank exceeded any tank I've run, including ones I've run for much longer. The only explanation I can come up with is the bacteria in the gravel substrate. Running the tank the way I initially did must have established either a greater variety or hardier species of bacteria, and maybe that never happens to such a degree in our "normal" tanks, which are clean and controlled.
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post #14 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-24-2005, 03:14 AM
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Very interesting. I suspect it would have been a different story had there been fish in there. I've seen experiments like this, with no fish, just a little flora eco-system. I wonder what would have happened if the seal hadn't blown? Were you doing water changes at that point?

My large 55g has been running for 4 years with minimal interference. I just recently tore everything out, drained it down to the substrate almost, and replanted/replaced/restocked. The water parameters are rock solid, no fluctuations, and I've been wondering if it has anything to do with the well seasoned substrate...
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post #15 of 25 (permalink) Old 12-24-2005, 06:21 AM
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Originally Posted by sunnysmom
I wonder what would have happened if the seal hadn't blown? Were you doing water changes at that point?
After the six-month experiment, in went a filter and fish, and "semi-regular" water changes were performed. Anotherwards, when I wasn't too lazy to do it - and I frequenty was.

It ran another 1.5 years or so before the blowout. Failure was apparently caused by the surface on which it sat sagging.

The fish varied. At its most heavily loaded, it was home to two well-fed 4" comet goldfish, a chinese algae eater, two cories, and a couple of blue tetra. (Don't say it, I know!)

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The water parameters are rock solid, no fluctuations, and I've been wondering if it has anything to do with the well seasoned substrate...
That would certainly match with other people's experience.
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