Recently, the Kentucky Division of Water attempted to sneak weakened selenium standards into their three-year review of water quality standards after the original 30-day public comment period. Kentuckians spoke up. Now the DOW has agreed to seek additional comments from the public on the selenium standards until March 1st.
The DOW has proposed to raise the acute standard for selenium in streams from 20 to 258 micrograms per liter, or even higher in some cases. The DOW has also proposed to replace the current chronic standard of five micrograms per liter in streams, with a measurement of the concentration of selenium in fish tissue. The current standards are supported by the EPA and scientific research, and should not be made less stringent.
Selenium is toxic to aquatic life even at very low levels. It bioaccumulates, meaning that it increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain, affecting fish and even aquatic birds. In fish, selenium toxicity can result in deformities and reproductive failure. Important Kentucky fish species, such as bluegill, sunfish and catfish, are particularly sensitive to selenium. At higher levels, selenium is toxic to people. Humans can be exposed to selenium through the water they drink and the fish they eat. Long-term exposure can damage the liver, kidneys, nervous system, and circulatory system.