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Water-sediment controversy in setting environmental standards for selenium

January 1, 1999

A substantial amount of laboratory and field research on selenium effects to biota has been accomplished since the national water quality criterion was published for selenium in 1987. Many articles have documented adverse effects on biota at concentrations below the current chronic criterion of 5 μg/L. This commentary will present information to support a national water quality criterion for selenium of 2 μg/L, based on a wide array of support from federal, state, university, and international sources. Recently, two articles have argued for a sediment-based criterion and presented a model for deriving site-specific criteria. In one example, they calculate a criterion of 31 μg/L for a stream with a low sediment selenium toxicity threshold and low site-specific sediment total organic carbon content, which is substantially higher than the national criterion of 5 μg/L. Their basic premise for proposing a sediment-based method has been critically reviewed and problems in their approach are discussed.