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2019: Year in Review

2019: Year in Review

The monthly Brooks Applied Labs (BAL) newsletter contained many interesting and informational articles over the past year. To start off 2020, here’s a recap of the most popular newsletter pieces from the past year (click on link for the full article):

Choosing the Appropriate Method for Arsenic Speciation
When routine analytical testing indicates that a sample contains elevated levels of arsenic, more detailed characterization is often warranted. Performing arsenic speciation analysis – where specific molecular forms of arsenic are individually quantified – is often critical; however, if you don’t select the most appropriate analytical method, you can end up without the data you need or paying too much for data that is not helpful. {January 2019}

Selenium and Mercury in Fish Collected Near Power Plants
BAL’s data was featured prominently in this journal article where the authors presented a study of mercury (Hg), methylmercury (MeHg), and selenium (Se) in muscle tissue and otoliths from 12 species of fish collected from locations influenced by power plant wastewater. {August 2019}

Rare Earth Elements 
Rare earth elements (REE) exist “hidden” in water and solid materials all around us. BAL has developed analytical methods to support not just trace, but ultra-trace (ppq-level) quantitation of REEs using column chelation paired with inductively coupled plasma triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (CC-ICP-QQQ-MS). {October 2019}

Se and Hg in Fish Collected Near Power Plants

Se and Hg in Fish Collected Near Power Plants

Arsenic SpeciationBrooks Applied Labs’ data was featured prominently in a recent Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry journal article titled, “Selenium and Mercury in Freshwater Fish Muscle Tissues and Otoliths: A Comparative Analysis”. Authors Robin Reash et al. presented a study where they measured mercury (Hg), methylmercury (MeHg), and selenium (Se) in muscle tissue and otoliths from 12 species of fish collected from locations influenced by power plant wastewater. There were interesting differences between Se and Hg in their correlation between concentration in the tissues and otoliths and ecological/exposure factors, perhaps explained by the different manners in which Se and Hg bioaccumulate. For more information, the full abstract can be viewed on-line. Visit the BAL website for more information regarding the vast array of analytical services available for biological tissues

Welcome to the Selenium Centre of Excellence

Welcome to the Selenium Centre of Excellence

Selenium Centre of ExcellenceThe Selenium Centre of Excellence (SCE) is a non-profit organization seeking to advance innovative scientific solutions to address the growing global concern of selenium for the betterment of its inhabitants, ecosystems, industry, and regulatory bodies. Forever altruistic, Russell Gerads (BAL’s Business Development Director) is a member of the SCE Steering Committee, where he helps to guide operational and research activities. Membership to SCE is open to anyone that shares the organization’s goals and belief that technology, science, and engineering can help solve many of the issues associated with selenium. Please contact Frank Gu (f.gu@utoronto.ca or 416-978-8518) for more information about the SCE, or visit our website to learn more about BAL’s speciation and analysis capabilities for selenium.

The Importance of Selenium Speciation

The Importance of Selenium Speciation

Got SeleniumThe topic of selenium has garnered attention in various industries for decades now, but the challenge associated with removing selenium from wastewaters has not diminished. In order to understand the most effective form of treatment for this unusual element that is both an essential micronutrient but also toxic at relatively low concentrations, the molecular form, or speciation, of selenium must be understood.

The two most common inorganic forms present in industrial wastewaters and agricultural runoff are selenite and selenate. Numerous treatment options are available for selenite, but conventional options like iron co-precipitation are ineffective for selenate. Several reviews have identified biological treatment as one of the best options for selenate removal, in part because it is cost-effective and has been proven in full-scale installations. Therefore, it is prudent for industries needing to implement selenium treatment and collaborative service providers to characterize waste streams via speciation analysis before and during bench- or pilot-scale studies.

Systems for biological treatment of selenium-laden waters take many forms, but anaerobic bioreactors are one of the most common iterations. In most of these systems, reduction of selenite and selenate to elemental selenium (Se0) is the desired outcome. This elemental selenium is mostly insoluble and can be removed from the effluent via filtration or temporarily retained in the reactor until backflushing of the system can be performed. Well-maintained and optimized bioreactors have been shown to treat industrial wastewaters containing mg/L concentrations of selenium down to single-digit µg/L levels.

Depending on the bacterial strains involved, the chemical environment, proper operation and maintenance, and the availability of nutrients, other less-desirable selenium species may be formed by bioreactor systems. Figure 1 shows a chromatogram of an effluent from a bioreactor used to treat a wastewater initially containing only selenite and selenate. Of particular note are the appreciable concentrations of the reduced selenium species, selenosulfate and selenocyanate (SeCN), as well as the organic selenium species that are present. While the toxicity of all these species have not been fully characterized and their bioaccumulation can be influenced by other constituents in the water, it has been shown that the bioavailability of certain species like selenomethionine can be several orders of magnitude higher than those of inorganic selenium.

Since the goal of the treatment process is to reduce the uptake of selenium in the aquatic environment, conversion of inorganic selenium into forms that are significantly more bioavailable must be avoided. Otherwise, there is the potential that the treatment process itself will enhance the biomagnification of selenium. Methods that can quantify low levels of organic selenium species in the aquatic environment are also required due to the high bioavailability of these forms. Figure 2 shows an example of one such method performed at Brooks Applied Labs, high-performance liquid chromatography inductively coupled plasma collision reaction cell mass spectrometry (HPLC-ICP-CRC-MS). Using this method, selenomethionine can be reliably quantitated down to 5 ng/L (or part-per-trillion, ppt) in natural waters and certain industrial wastewaters.
Selenium speciation analysis is essential for not only selecting an appropriate treatment system but also monitoring its performance, thereby increasing the probability that it serves the goals of mitigating selenium ecotoxicity and corporate liability. Routinely monitoring the speciation of the effluent (in addition to standard parameters such as pH and ORP) allows system operators to make timely adjustments to maintain optimal reactor performance.  To find out more about how Brooks Applied Labs can support your selenium treatment system, please contact us today!

BAL is On the Road Again…

SETAC logoThe SETAC North America 39th Annual Meeting will be held in Sacramento November 4-8 this year. Come learn more about the unexpected ways alligators can potentially cause you harm you when Elizabeth Madonick, BAL Technical Services Specialist, presents a poster on the concentrations of total mercury and methylmercury in alligator meat on Tuesday, November 6th! Contact us any time after November 8th if you would like to receive a PDF copy of this interesting research.


The same week, Russ Gerads and Jamie Fox will be attending the International Water Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Jamie will be presenting on “Compliance with Selenium Aquatic Life Criterion and the Importance of Speciation for Treatment Selection and Monitoring” during the session on Trace Contaminants: Detection, Removal, and Recovery on November 5th. If you are interested in receiving a copy of this presentation, please feel free to contact us after November 12th.

Quantifying Trace Selenium in Seawater

The Coast at SunsetBrooks Applied Labs (BAL) is now offering the most innovative method commercially available for the quantitation of selenium in saline waters at concentrations as low as 5 ng/L (parts-per-trillion). BAL’s novel method utilizes in-line matrix component separation and preconcentration, is fully automated, and has no spectral interferences attributed to the saline matrix. Ultra-trace detection limits for selenium in saline waters (such as seawater, brackish waters, RO reject water, and brines) to support discharge requirements and investigations for estuaries, bays, near shore and open ocean, and saline lakes with unparalleled quality are now a reality.

Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is a powerful and efficient tool for the determination of low-level metals; however, the high salt content of seawater can lead to elevated method detection limits and inaccurate results. Several methods have been developed that utilize reaction-based chemistry (e.g., hydride generation and coprecipitation) to remove selenium from the saline matrix prior to analysis. Trace-level detection limits have been achieved with these methods; however, reaction-based chemistry has inherent limitations and is susceptible to interferences from elevated concentrations of common constituents found in seawater and procedural inefficiencies.

The need to improve method robustness, reduce operational costs, and increase data quality motivated BAL scientists to generate this new method to meet both our client’s needs and the needs of regulatory agencies around the world. As part of our commitment to quality, BAL’s new method has undergone extensive validation confirming both inorganic and organic molecular forms of selenium are represented in our results, making it a truly species-independent quantitative approach.

Monitoring elements at environmentally-relevant concentrations in seawater is critical for developing accurate environmental assessments and evaluating the effectiveness of various pollution controls. BAL’s improved methodology allows for an unprecedented level of data quality at concentrations as low as just a few parts-per-trillion.

If you would like to learn more about trace-level selenium quantitation in saline samples, contact us!