The essential toxin: The changing perception of selenium in environmental sciences

M. Lenz, P.N.L. Lens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

306 Citations (Scopus)


During the last decades, the perception of selenium has undergone substantial changes. While its toxic effects were recognized causing hair and hoof loss in animals during the 1930s, its essential role in microbial, animal and human metabolism has been recognized later, i.e. with the discovery of selenium deficiency causing ¿white muscle disease¿ in feedstock in the 1950s. Nowadays, the positive effect of systematic selenium supplementation is discussed in manifold topics such as cancer or diabetes prevention and avian influenza susceptibility. Treatment of selenium containing waste streams poses a notable challenge to environmental engineers, and to date no ultimate solution has been found for e.g. the selenium contamination in agricultural areas of the western USA. For the future, selenium contamination carries an imminent danger, if the increasing energy demand is covered by fossil fuel combustion, which will lead to major selenium emission and toxicity. This review presents current knowledge of selenium¿s role in environmental sciences and outlines potentially feasible treatment options targeting a variety of selenium contaminated waste streams
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3620-3633
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • zero-valent iron
  • enterobacter-cloacae sld1a-1
  • agricultural drainage water
  • selenate-reducing bacterium
  • permeable reactive barriers
  • membrane biofilm reactor
  • elemental red selenium
  • acid-mine drainage
  • bacillus sp sf-1
  • respiring bacteria


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