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Total suspended solids

Total suspended solids is a water quality measurement usually abbreviated TSS. This parameter was at one time called non-filterable residue (NFR), a term that refers to the identical measurement: the dry-weight of particles trapped by a filter, typically of a specified pore size. However, the term "non-filterable" suffered from an odd (for science) condition of usage: in some circles (Oceanography, for example) "filterable" meant the material retained on a filter, so non-filterable would be the water and particulates that passed through the filter. In other disciplines (Chemistry and Microbiology for examples) and dictionary definitions, "filterable" means just the opposite: the material passed by a filter, usually called "Total dissolved solids" or TDS. Thus in chemistry the non-filterable solids are the retained material called the residue.



TSS of a water sample is determined by pouring a carefully measured volume of water (typically one liter; but less if the particulate density is high, or as much as two or three liters for very clean water) through a pre-weighed filter of a specified pore size, then weighing the filter again after drying to remove all water. The gain in weight is a dry weight measure of the particulates present in the water sample expressed in units derived or calculated from the volume of water filtered (typically milligrams per liter or mg/l).

Recognize that if the water contains an appreciable amount of dissolved substances (as certainly would be the case when measuring TSS in sea water), these will add to the weight of the filter as it is dried. Therefore it is necessary to "wash" the filter and sample with deionized water after filtering the sample and before drying the filter. Failure to add this step is a fairly common mistake made by inexperienced laboratory technicians working with sea water samples, and will completely invalidate the results as the weight of salts left on the filter during drying can easily exceed that of the suspended particulate matter.

Although turbidity purports to measure approximately the same water quality property as TSS, the latter is more useful because it provides an actual weight of the particulate material present in the sample. In water quality monitoring situations, a series of more labor intensive TSS measurements will be paired with relatively quick and easy turbidity measurements to develop a site-specific correlation. Once satisfactorily established, the correlation can be used to estimate TSS from more frequently made turbidity measurements, saving time and effort. Because turbidity readings are somewhat dependent on particle size, shape, and color, this approach requires calculating a correlation equation for each location. Further, situations or conditions that tend to suspend larger particles through water motion (e.g., increase in a stream current or wave action) can produce higher values of TSS not necessarily accompanied by a corresponding increase in turbidity for the reason that particles above a certain size (essentially anything larger than silt) are not measured by a bench turbidity meter (they settle out before the reading is taken) but contribute substantially to the TSS value.

Definition problems

Although TSS appears to be a straightforward measure of particulate weight obtained by separating particles from a water sample using a filter, it suffers as a defined quantity from the fact that particles occur in nature in essentially a continuum of sizes. At the lower end, TSS relies on a cut-off established by properties of the filter being used. At the upper end, the cut-off should be the exclusion of all particulates too large to be "suspended" in water. However, this is not a fixed particle size but is dependent upon the energetics of the situatuion at the time of sampling: moving water suspends larger particles than does still water. Usually it is the case that the additional suspended material caused by the movement of the water is of interest.

These problems in no way invalidate the use of TSS; consistency in method and technique can overcome short-comings in most cases. But comparisons between studies may require a careful review of the methodologies used to establish that the studies are in fact measuring the same thing.


  • Olivia , Moran, Joseph M.; Morgan, Michael D., & Wiersma, James H. (1980). Introduction to Environmental Science (2nd ed.). W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, NY
  • Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater - 20th Edition ISBN 0-87553-235-7. This is also available on CD-ROM and online by subscription
  • Ramsey, Justin. 2001. Design of septic tanks design summary series.
  • National Association of Wastewater Transporters Inc, Introduction to proper Onsite Sewage Treatment. St. Paul, MN, USA

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Total_suspended_solids". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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