Ecological assessment of selenium in the aquatic environment by P M Chapman; William J Adams; Marjorie Brooks; SETAC

By P M Chapman; William J Adams; Marjorie Brooks; SETAC (Society)

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4) (Garrett and Inman 1984; Lemly 1993a). Population and community-level effects have been primarily documented in aquatic systems where movement of organisms (emigration and immigration) is restricted. In the classic example of Belews Lake (NC, USA), 26 of 29 resident fish species experienced local extinction (Appendix A) due to reproductive failure caused by Se (Lemly 1993b, 1998). Elimination of species from communities, particularly those taxa that exert strong top–down (some predators) or bottom–up (some microbes or benthic invertebrates) effects may have ecosystem-wide repercussions, particularly when sufficient functional redundancy is absent in the system.

The element Se is in the 4th period of group 16 (chalcogen group) of the periodic table. 96 (Lide 1994). Se is chemically related to other members of the chalcogen group, which includes oxygen, sulfur, tellurium, and polonium. Selenium is classified as a non-metal, but elemental Se has several different allotropes that display either non-metal (red Se, black Se) or borderline metalloid or non-metal behavior (grey Se, a semiconductor) (McQuarrie and Rock 1991; Lide 1994). Unlike metals or transition-metals, which typically form cations in aqueous solution, Se is hydrolyzed in aqueous solution to form oxyanions, including selenite (SeO–3 2) and selenate (SeO–4 2).

In the Elk River Valley of southeastern British Columbia, open coal pit mining over the past decades has resulted in sharply increasing surface water Se concentrations. Selenium concentrations in discharges (primarily selenate) often exceed 300 µg/L. Downstream of the mines, lotic, lentic, and marsh areas are receiving substantial Se loads, leading to bioaccumulation in macrophytes, benthic macroinvertebrates, and a variety of secondary consumers. Individual-level early life stage effects have been observed in 2 fish species, marsh and water birds, and frogs, but population-level effects linked to Se have been more difficult to establish in field studies (Harding et al.

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