An Evaluation of the Toxicity of Potassium Chloride, Active Compound in the Molluscicide Potash, on Salmonid Fish and Their Forage Base

Science Center Objects

An Evaluation of the Toxicity of Potassium Chloride, Active Compound in the Molluscicide Potash, on Salmonid Fish and Their Forage Base

Potash, with the active ingredient potassium chloride (KCl) is a chemical that is currently being evaluated for potential use as a molluscicide to combat invasive zebra mussels and quagga mussels in Western United States waters.  Although data available for other freshwater fishes indicate that recommended treatment levels of potash as a molluscicide are sublethal, this has not been demonstrated for all salmonid species.  The objectives of this study were to perform toxicity testing to determine the lethality of potassium chloride against selected species of salmonid fish (brook trout and Chinook salmon) and selected invertebrate forage, and to identify any potential adverse physiological impacts of KCl to these salmonids in water at treatment levels used for mollusk eradication.  Minimal mortality (n= 1 fish) was observed during 96-hour toxicity testing at KCl concentrations of 0 to 800 milligrams per liter (mg/L), indicating that the lethal concentration (LC50) values in these salmonid species were considerably higher than realistic molluscicide treatment concentrations. Sublethal effects were examined through evaluation of behavioral and morphological (histological) observation as well as specific blood chemistry parameters (electrolytes, osmolality, glucose, and cortisol).  There was no strong evidence of significant physiological impairment among the two salmonid species due to KCl exposure.  Whereas statistically significant differences in some parameters were observed in association with KCl treatments, it is unlikely that these differences indicate adverse biological impacts.  Acute toxicity tests were conducted with invertebrate species at KCl exposure concentrations of 0 -3,200 mg/L. Daphniid exposure trials resulted in differences in mortality among the test groups with higher mortality evident among the higher KCl exposure concentrations with a calculated LC50 value of 196 mg/L KCl for a 48-hour exposure.  Crayfish exposed to higher concentrations of KCl at or above 800 mg/L as specimens exhibited death or reversible paralysis.  Chironomid larvae exposures were largely inconclusive because of cannibalistic behavior among the various test groups. 


Densmore, C.L., Iwanowicz, L.R., Henderson, A.P., Blazer, V.S., Reed-Grimmett, B.M., and Sanders, L.R., 2018, An evaluation of the toxicity of potassium chloride, active compound in the molluscicide potash, on salmonid fish and their forage base: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1080, 33 p.,


Juvenile salmonid fish

Juvenile salmonid fish in 96 hour static replacement toxicity test for potassium chloride

(Credit: Christine L. Densmore, DVM PhD, USGS, Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)

Measuring water quality

Measuring water quality during acute toxicity testing with juvenile salmonid fish

(Credit: Christine L. Densmore, DVM PhD, USGS Leetown Science Center. Public domain.)