Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 25, Issue 18, pp 17393–17401 | Cite as

Biodegradation of CuTETA, an effluent by-product in mineral processing

  • Alexander M. L. Cushing
  • Sadan Kelebek
  • Siqing Yue
  • Juliana A. Ramsay
Research Article


Polyamines such as triethylenetetramine (TETA) and other amine chelators are used in mineral processing applications. Formation of heavy metal complexes of these reagents as a by-product in effluent water is a recent environmental concern. In this study, Paecilomyces sp. was enriched from soil on TETA as the sole source of carbon and nitrogen and was found to degrade > 96 and 90% CuTETA complexes at initial concentrations of 0.32 and 0.79 mM respectively, following 96-h incubation. After destabilization, most of the copper (> 78%) was complexed extracellularly and the rest was associated with the cell. Mass spectroscopy results provided confirmation that copper re-complexed with small, extracellular, and organic molecules. There are no reports in the literature that Paecilomyces or any other organism can grow on TETA or CuTETA. This study is the first to show that biological destabilization of CuTETA complexes in mineral processing effluents is feasible.


CuTETA Biodegradation Effluent water Metal chelate Copper 



The authors would like to thank Larissa Smith and Joaquin Arrendo for their occasional help during the course of this investigation.

Funding information

This study received partial financial support from Vale Canada and NSERC.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_1877_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander M. L. Cushing
    • 1
  • Sadan Kelebek
    • 1
  • Siqing Yue
    • 2
  • Juliana A. Ramsay
    • 2
  1. 1.The Robert M. Buchan Department of MiningQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Chemical EngineeringQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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