Comparative bioavailability of selenium to aquatic organisms after biological treatment of agricultural drainage water

E. L. Amweg, D. L. Stuart, D. P. Weston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Selenium (Se) is naturally abundant in the soils of the western San Joaquin Valley, California, USA. Intense agricultural activity in this region requires irrigation which leaches Se into surface waters draining to the San Joaquin River. Se water contamination and subsequent accumulation in wildlife is a serious problem in the Central Valley of California, and the subject of increasingly intensive regulatory action. Algal-bacterial selenium reduction (ABSR) is a potential new treatment approach to reduce Se in agricultural drainage, and an ABSR demonstration facility was examined with respect to its Se removal efficiency and effect on Se bioavailability and bioaccumulation. Water samples were taken to study treatment effects on Se speciation. Invertebrate tissue Se concentrations in the ABSR ponds were monitored for 2 years. Laboratory-based algal bioaccumulation tests and in situ microcosms with a variety of invertebrates were also used to address differences in Se bioavailability before and after ABSR treatment. The ABSR system removed about 80% of the total influent Se; however, microbial and algal activity produced selenite and organic Se, the combined concentration of which increased 8-fold during treatment. As a result of the greater bioavailability of selenite and organic Se, relative to the selenate of the influent, treatment contributed to greater Se concentrations in effluent-exposed organisms. ABSR-treated water produced Se concentrations in biota 2-4 times greater than organisms exposed to untreated water. The bioavailability of Se in the treated water was 2-10 times greater than Se in the influent. The shift to more bioavailable Se forms due to biological treatment is inherent in system design, and makes it difficult to weigh the ecological benefits of a reduction in total Se loadings from a regional perspective against the greater toxicological risk to biota in the vicinity of the effluent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 17 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioavailability
  • Selenium
  • Speciation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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