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    Author(s): A. Dennis Lemly
    Date: 1999
    Source: Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. 5(6): 1139-1151.
    Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
    PDF: Download Publication  (829.0 KB)


    A selenium time bomb situation is developing in the United States and elsewhere that may result in substantial impacts on fish populations. The selenium time bomb has three components: (1) high food-chain bioaccumulation; (2) steep toxic response curve for fish; and (3) insidious mode of toxicity. If the threshold for selenium toxicity is exceeded, the time bomb explodes and a cascade of events is set into motion that will result in major ecosystem disruption. Several human-related factors are emerging that are capable of igniting the fuse of the time bomb by increasing waterborne concentrations of selenium and providing conditions favorable for bioaccumulation. Some of these factors are (1) mobilization of selenium due to open-pit phosphate mining; (2) use of constructed wetlands to treat selenium-laden wastewater from oil refineries and agricultural irrigation; (3) landfill disposal of seleniferous fly ash from coal-fired power plants; and (4) mobilization of selenium from animal feedlot wastes. Collectively, these threats may be sufficient to cause widespread, unanticipated toxic effects in fish populations. Only environmentally sound risk assessments followed by prudent management actions can defuse the selenium time bomb—once it explodes, it is too late to avoid significant impacts.

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    Lemly, A. Dennis. 1999. Selenium impacts on fish: an insidious time bomb. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. 5(6): 1139-1151.


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