High ammonia levels from test kit

>> Discussion of a tank which reads 2ppm on a hobbyist grade kit, but the
fish are in minimal distress <<

> > 	Tom-I know, that is what is so puzzling about this. This tank is
> > actually belongs to my 11 year old daughter and when she tried to add neon
> > tetras they died in a matter of hours. Is it possible the Hilena is giving a
> > false reading? Maybe Gouramiis and cats are not as bothered by ammonia?
> >

> Ammonia level of 2ppm will surely do all your fish in! And I am pretty
> Gerry's test kit is working just fine. How could that be? You see, what your
> test kit manufacturer doesn't say on the instruction sheet is that their test
> kit will measure ammonia and ammonium indiscriminantly. As we all know

Forgive my imprecision.  What I should have said is that, given the high
toxicity of ammonia and the low precision of a hobbyist grade kit, a
reading of 2ppm is truly alarming.  Even though some of the "ammonia"
constituting the 2ppm reading is undoubtedly ammonium, the fish should
should still show some signs of poor water quality.  Tetras dying in a
matter of hours would be a sign of this.

There are several questions which should be answered at this point
1. what _is_ the temp and pH of the water?  If the pH is around 5.5, then
the ammonia/ammonium balance will swing sharply to the non-toxic ammonium.

2. Is the test kit a salicylate (sp?) kit, which can distinguish ammonia
and ammonium correctly?

3. How old is the test kit?  For such a high reading, I would assume the
worst, implement corrective measures (see below) and seek verification.
Many fish stores will test for ammonia; take in a sample and see what you

4. If we are convinced that the ammonia is indeed this high, the fish will
not prosper, even if they are "more tolerant."  Do an immediate water
change, and filter through zeolite chips.  Again, this will only convert
ammonia to ammonium, so subsequent ammonia readings will be erroneous.  A
zero reading, however, will still be correct, and this is what should be
aimed for.  Perform frequent water changes and do not add any more fish
until the ammonia clears for a week or two.

5. Finally, for what I see is a long and somewhat off-topic post \(^_^)/,
I don't believe that the Hilena D should be the problem.  The value
of the Tetra fertilizers is debatable, but they seem to have
caught on to the detrimental effects of adding phosphate and
nitrogen to a tank.  I don't know what else would cause an ammonia test to
misread, other than additional nitrogen in the form of ammonium.  OTOH,
one experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions (at least).  Remove the
Hilena and check the ammonia after several water changes.

Good luck.