EPA proposes to lower selenium standards for rivers and streams
March 04, 2005: In December 2004, the EPA proposed a new selenium-level standard for rivers and streams which would allow states to modify their water-quality standards. Currently, the EPA limits selenium levels to 5 parts per billion in water. Under the agency's draft guidelines, the agency would measure concentration in individual fish rather than test selenium levels in water.
The proposal faces strong opposition from aquatic biologists and Interior Department scientists, including the researcher whose work the EPA used to formulate the new limit -- up to 7.91 micrograms per gram of fish. In an article in Aquatic Toxicology, Forest Service aquatic toxicologist Dennis Lemley stated that the EPA had misinterpreted his research, which found that 40 percent of the fish in his study died when their selenium levels reached 7.91 parts per million -- the agency's proposed new threshold. The EPA's selenium proposal manager, Charles Delos, said the new standards account for Lemley's data and provide for additional monitoring of fish when their selenium levels reach 5.85 parts per million or higher.
Industry officials have been pushing the Bush administration for the changes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been seeking tougher limits, however, based on research from the 1980s that showed selenium caused mass deformities of water fowl at California's Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. The EPA is accepting comments on the proposal until April 18, 2005.
"The EPA's less protective standard would allow 60 percent more selenium pollution than the current recommended safe level," said Aaron Colangelo, an attorney in NRDC's health program. "Relaxing the standard would allow polluting industries to save millions of dollars while leaving wildlife to pay the ultimate price."
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