British Columbia Mine Reclamation Symposium

Baseline selenium in sculpins related to the northeast coal zone Carmichael, N. Bruce


Selenium (Se) is a contaminant of particular concern for coal mines in British Columbia and elsewhere. The primary concern is uptake of the organic form of Se by fish and water birds, potentially resulting in reproductive impairments of their offspring. Because the primary concern relates to dietary uptake, tissue Se concentrations are measured and compared to tissue threshold reference values (TRVs) to determine whether or not there is a potential risk. However, Se is also an essential element that can be preferentially accumulated by organisms. Thus, background tissue concentrations need to be determined to reduce uncertainties in the application of TRVs. Extensive coal mining development is presently occurring in the northeast of British Columbia (BC), Canada, where the rocks are Se-enriched such that natural background concentrations can be elevated. This paper reports on the determination of background Se concentrations in whole bodies of slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus) collected from reference areas both inside and outside the coal zone. Sculpins collected from reference areas within the coal zone generally had higher Se whole body concentrations than those outside the coal zone and consistently exceeded the current BC fish whole body draft interim Se guidelines, sometimes also exceeding the 50% higher USEPA draft fish whole body Se criterion for summer sampling. These data will be useful for assessing potential risks from Se released by coal mining in the northeast of BC and possibly elsewhere.

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