Selenium: Too Much in Your Water Can be Worse Than Having a Deficiency 

By Richard Mesquita, AquaMD

(AquaMD is the water testing division of the American Water Council, a nationally respected provider of water education and testing services. AquaMD has teamed with Dr. Mercola to provide you with diagnostic services and the Dr. Mercola water testing packages at http://www.aquamd.com/mercola/labtests.cfm.)

A new Web site was recently launched by a non-profit organization of researchers and engineers who are concerned about the growing evidence of adverse health and environmental effects from products containing selenium.

In fact, Congress was so concerned about the significantly increasing levels of selenium in the environment that they directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a study of selenium's "potentially injurious effects to the environment and human health." I commend their efforts because selenium is just one more element I find in more public water supplies.

It's important to note, however, your body needs low levels of selenium to maintain good health. Still, exposure to high levels of selenium can cause adverse health effects.

You typically get enough selenium from the food you eat or from a daily vitamin supplement. There is no need for selenium to be in your water supply, because it has been classified as a bioaccumulative toxin, right up there with mercury, lead, PCBs and dioxins. Selenium is also part of the EPA's toxic release inventory.

What is Selenium and How is it Used?

Selenium is a solid black, gray or reddish element found in rocks and soil (and present in coal and oil). You may be surprised about the variety of products that use it:

Environmental Discharges

Selenium has also been identified by the EPA as one of several hazardous materials released from electronic waste (E-waste). This means that hazardous substances found in millions of computers, TV sets, cell phones and other electronic products that are discarded every year leach into the environment. In fact, government sources report approximately 220 million tons of E-waste are generated each year in the United States.

Electric utilities burn coal and oil (which contains selenium) to fuel their turbines and generate electricity. The soot resulting from burning coal and oil is pumped into the air and ultimately deposited by rain into rivers, lakes and underground water supplies. And, selenium waste from farm animal discharges also leaches into surrounding water supplies.

The EPA reported that in 2003 more than 3.3 million pounds of selenium and selenium compounds were disposed of in the United States. Here are the top 10 states in terms of the highest levels of reported discharges:

  1. Texas
  2. Nevada
  3. Utah
  4. Idaho
  5. Pennsylvania
  6. Ohio
  7. West Virginia
  8. Oregon
  9. Alabama
  10. Indiana

Health Effects

Long-term exposure to high levels of selenium has been linked to causing hair and fingernail loss, damage to the nervous system, fatigue, irritability and may also cause circulatory system problems. Over the long haul, it can also result in the discoloration of the skin, excessive tooth decay, tooth discoloration, lack of mental alertness and listlessness.

Selenium has also been shown to cause reproductive difficulties in laboratory animals.

If you've recently been exposed to high levels of selenium, blood and urine tests should detect it. If you've been exposed over the long term, toenail clippings can be used to detect it.

Does Your Water Contain Selenium?

To protect your health, I urge you to find out if selenium and other contaminants are in your water supply. If they are, get the right treatment system to remove them. Don't assume you can tell if your water is safe just by the way it looks, tastes or smells.

Dangerous levels of toxins in your water can only be detected by sophisticated laboratory equipment.

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If you are unsure if your water is safe, I recommend you find out by taking advantage of AquaMD's Diagnostic Service or their Direct Laboratory Testing Services.