Selenium and the Great Salt Lake

Nicole Albano, Westminster College; Dr. Paul Hooker, Dept. of Physical Sciences, Westminster College; Dr. Ty Harrison, Dept. of Biology, Westminster College



Selenium is a trace element essential for life, but it is also toxic at relatively low concentrations. If present in water, selenium is known to bioaccumulate in aquatic flora and fauna resulting in the decimation of fish and bird populations. The seleniferous soils of the Western deserts combined with anthropogenic activities, e.g., copper mining, in the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake make it a likely repository for selenium. The presence of bird sanctuaries makes it necessary to monitor the concentration of selenium in this unique environment so that potential disasters may be avoided. In this study we have analyzed selenium levels in water and brine shrimp collected from the Great Salt Lake, Utah, using fluorescence spectroscopy. In addition, we have investigated the role of high concentrations of NaCl on the extraction and proper quantification of Se using this analytical technique.


       Dr. Paul Hooker                               Dr. Ty Harrison                            Nicole Albano






Why the Great Salt Lake?

USGS Website for the Great Salt Lake

· The Bear River refuge at the north end of the lake is renowned worldwide for the diversity and number of bird species and is an important stopping point for the North/South migration of many species. Birds depending on brine shrimp as their principle diet may be affected by selenium bioaccumulation.

· Utah had the largest releases of selenium to the environment (1,578 lbs to water, 696,515 lbs to land) in the country between the years 1983 and 1992 mostly due to copper mining activities.

· One of the largest copper smelting and refining industries in the world is located adjacent to the lake.


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