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Oxygen Demand: Distinguishing BOD
and COD Methods of Analysis


Oxygen demand measurements are used to estimate water pollution levels entering and leaving wastewater treatment and industrial facilities. Particularly close attention is paid to effluents as high oxygen demand levels indicate a danger to aquatic life.

Since treatment facilities are considered point sources, they are regulated in the USA under the Clean Water Act (CWA) which in turn sets facility specific pollutant release targets as part of the National Permit Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process. NPDES permits usually specify limits related to oxygen demand based on either the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) or Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) methods of analyses.

In the UK they are regulated under the The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994, the The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 and the The Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007. In Ireland they are regulated by the S.I. No. 419/1994 - Environment Protection Agency Act, 1992 (Urban Waste Water Treatment) Regulations, 1994 which sets pollutant release targets as part of the EPA Waste Water Discharge licensing system.

BOD Testing

BOD measures how much dissolved oxygen (DO) is consumed by microorganisms to decompose organic matter under aerobic conditions. Testing for BOD involves incubating a sealed water sample at 20°C for five days, followed by measuring the difference in oxygen content before and after incubation.

COD Testing

COD measures how much DO is consumed by the oxidation of organic matter and inorganic compounds such as ammonia or nitrite under controlled conditions. COD testing typically involves digestion of the water sample in a sealed vial with potassium dichromate and sulphuric acid at 150°C for 2 hours. Vials are read in a spectrophotometer to determine results.


Of the two tests, COD analysis is more commonly performed as it takes less time and is more replicable. Furthermore, treatment operators can quickly react to changes in oxygen demand and modify treatment processes appropriately. Plant engineers may establish a statistically validated COD/BOD ratio to demonstrate their ability to reliably predict a BOD value based solely on a COD measurement to their permitting authority. The COD value may be used as justification for BOD removal from a plant permit.


CHEMetrics offers a comprehensive line of USEPA-accepted COD vials. K-7350S is for low range measurements (0-150 ppm) while K-7360S is for high range measurements (0-1,500 ppm). While not USEPA-accepted, K-7370S can measure up to 15,000 ppm. CHEMetrics also offers a line of mercury-free COD vials (K-7351S, K-7361S, and K-7371S) that are more convenient for disposal.

Zachary Waszczak, Joanne Carpenter, CHEMetrics,
Edited by Patrik Askert, Galgo,