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Learning about Selenium from the experts

Nicholas L. M. Allen photo. On June 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., Elks Hall hosted an informational session on Selenium with Guy Gilron, a senior environmental scientist from Borealis Environmental.

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Jun 19, 2024

Elks Hall hosted an informational session on selenium with industry experts.

On June 12, from 6 to 8 p.m., Elks Hall hosted an informational session on selenium with Guy Gilron, a senior environmental scientist from Borealis Environmental. With 35 years of experience in ecotoxicology and environmental risk assessment, Gilron explained selenium’s dual nature: essential for life but toxic in high doses, especially to fish and birds.

“It’s not a man made chemical, it’s naturally occurring, and it occurs everywhere. In some places it occurs more abundantly,” explained Gilron.

Gilron highlighted how selenium can accumulate in aquatic systems, entering water bodies from selenium-rich rock or soil, and impacting algae, invertebrates, fish, and birds. He discussed the regulations in place to manage selenium levels, emphasizing discharge standards and guidelines to protect aquatic life.

“Selenium poisoning in mammals is relatively rare. In most cases, selenium deficiency is an issue,” said Gilron.

To reduce selenium contamination, Gilron described various strategies like source control, monitoring, progressive reclamation and treatment methods, including passive and active systems. He shared examples of successful management, such as using wetlands for remediation and turning mined-out areas into pit lakes to improve water quality.

“It’s a complex element and it has very site-specific behaviours,” said Gilron.

The session also featured Claire Detering and David DeForest from Windward Environmental, holistic nutritionist Joanne Mulhall, and Lisa Kirk from Enviromin a division of Respec. They discussed selenium’s ecological effects, human health, and treatment technologies. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and participate in discussions to address their concerns.

A significant part of the discussion focused on new mining projects, like the Grassy Mountain development, and their potential impact on local water systems, especially the Oldman River watershed. Attendees expressed doubts about managing and remediating selenium contamination, citing past failures. Gilron acknowledged these challenges but emphasized ongoing research and advancements in selenium management.

A participant raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest due to funding sources for environmental monitoring. It was emphasized that professionals adhere to strict standards, ensuring their work is based on qualifications and not influenced by who pays them. Gilron clarified his professional independence despite working for various clients, including mining companies.

Questions included concerns about groundwater contamination, air quality, and the effectiveness of mitigation strategies. It was explained that monitoring and regulations are in place to detect and address selenium levels before they become hazardous but acknowledged the challenges in ensuring compliance.

It was also clarified that labs conducting selenium tests must be government-certified and undergo continuous testing. Any falsification of data would result in severe consequences, including losing their certification.

The discussion also covered the effectiveness of current mitigation strategies. Multiple layers of defence, including source control, progressive reclamation and treatment technologies like ion exchange and reverse osmosis, were highlighted as necessary to prevent severe pollution.

Concerns about the Elk River, where historical mining activities led to significant selenium pollution, were acknowledged. The discussion emphasized that while complete prevention is ideal, multiple defensive measures are necessary to manage and mitigate impacts effectively.

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