SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1998

Effect of Keratin on Heavy Metal Chelation and Toxicity to Aquatic Organisms


The presence of fresh scales and human hair in water can reduce the toxicity of lead nitrate at and above 6 ppb to fish. This ability is lost on drying and storage, but can be restored if dried hair or scales are treated with a solution of amino acids. The chelation ability of keratin in amino acid-treated scales or hair is retained for months on dry storage. Addition of these hair and / or scales to solutions of lead nitrate (112 ppm), mercuric chloride (5.9 ppm) and a mixture of both (56+2.95 ppm), and cupric sulfate (1 ppm) reduced the toxicity of these solutions to Daphnia magna and Dreissena polymorpha (zebra mussels). Toxicity of 10 ppm solutions of salts of 27 different metals to daphnids was similarly reduced after filtration through scales or hair. A mixture of a 2 ppb concentration of each of these 27 metals also became nonlethal to daphnids in the presence of, or filtration through, treated scales or hair. 0.25 g of treated hair or scale can be used indefinitely, again and again, to remove the mixture of these 27 metals from their fresh solution in 1 L water if the keratin is frequently rinsed with 0.1% nitric acid to remove the bound metals. The keratin in scales, thus, may be the most important ectodermal secretion in absorbing metals from polluted environments and in providing protection against their toxic levels.

Author Information

Coello, WF
University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Khan, MAQ
University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
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Developed by Committee: E47
Pages: 299–311
DOI: 10.1520/STP12172S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5384-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1485-2