...and is known to bioaccumulate in living tissues which can have many long-lasting effects
for both short-term and long-term exposure. Utah had the largest release of selenium into
the environment from 1987 to 1993, with a total of 696,515 pounds of selenium released to
land and 1,578 pounds released to water. Se also occurs naturally in the seleniferous
soils of Utah.
Environmentally, Se is a very dangerous and toxic substance. Even at
very low concentrations in the parts-per-billion range, the effects of Se contamination
can be devastating. The best-documented episode occurred in the mid-1980's at the Kesterson
Wildlife reserve in the San Joaquin Valley, California. This wetland reserve received the
majority of its water from agricultural drainage. The water contained Se dissolved at about
50 ppb, but the effects of bioaccumulation resulted in fish with elevated levels of Se up
to several hundred parts per million (compared to 1-10 ppm for "normal" fish). The result
of this was a decimation of the bird life at the reserve with chicks being born with
Students in my research group collect samples of brine shrimp (Artemia franciscana) and
water from the GSL to analyze for Se content. Brine shrimp are an important food source
for the birds that use the GSL. We are presently conducting experiments in which GSL
water samples containing brine shrimp have been spiked with increasing quantities of
selenium, the brine shrimp being analyzed for selenium bioaccumulation.
A secondary project just underway in conjunction with the National Audobon Society
involves the clean-up of 117 acres of GSL shoreline close to the Lee Creek. The vision
for this area is to transform a severely degraded part of the GSL into a place of
quiet and peace dedicated to wildlife and community education.
Researchers have measured GSL salinity as great as 27%, making it about 6 times as salty as sea water.