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HEALTH CONSULTATION

Selenium in Fish Streams of the Upper Blackfoot River Watershed

SOUTHEAST IDAHO SELENIUM PROJECT
SODA SPRINGS, CARIBOU COUNTY, IDAHO


BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF ISSUE

The Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety (BEHS), Division of Health, Idaho Departmentof Health and Welfare has a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances andDisease Registry (ATSDR) to conduct public health assessments and consultations for hazardouswaste sites in Idaho. As part of the cooperative agreement, BEHS prepared this healthconsultation for the Southeast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area (SEIPRA) to evaluate selenium infish in streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed. This Health Consultation addresses thefollowing question: Are people in the SEIPRA being exposed to selenium through fish instreams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed at levels that may cause harm?

This health consultation only addresses the public health significance of exposure to seleniumfrom fish in streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed. Consumption of wild game andlivestock was addressed in a previous health consultation, "Evaluation of Selenium in Beef, Elk,Sheep, and Fish in the Southeast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area" (BEHS 2001). BEHS andATSDR will collaboratively address specific concerns for Native Americans in a separate healthconsultation.

The Blackfoot River watershed has several active and inactive phosphate mines that potentiallycould adversely affect aquatic resources in several tributaries of the Blackfoot River (AppendixA). Phosphate has been mined from the area since 1919. Some of the ore is seleniferous,containing selenium levels that are much higher than background levels. In the late 1990s,several horses and sheep pastured around mines were diagnosed with chronic selenosis. Huntersfrom the area reported dead cattle and sheep near mines, and were concerned about potentialselenium exposure from the environment. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ)reported finding about 200 dead sheep around the Conda Mine in the Spring 2001. In 1997, theIdaho Mining Association (IMA) formed a Selenium Area Wide Advisory Committee(SeAWAC) to address this issue and BEHS became involved in 1999. Recent concerns aboutthe potential impact on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems from phosphate mining activities havebeen the subject of several reports (MW 1998, 1999abc, 2000, 2001). Elevated concentrations ofselenium have been reported in limited samples of fish fillets and aquatic invertebrates (MW1999c).

Since 2000, Tetra Tech EMI, an environmental contractor for IDEQ, conducted a Selenium AreaWide Investigation and reviewed studies conducted by Montgomery Watson. In the study, theyfound the selenium concentrations in some fish were above 2 micrograms per gram (mg/kg) orparts per million (ppm) wet weight. The IDEQ Area Wide Risk Assessment report cited thatconsumption advisories to protect human health were issued in California when seleniumconcentrations in edible tissues exceeded 2 ppm (wet weight), while health professionals advisedagainst any human consumption when selenium concentrations in edible tissues exceeded 5 ppm.Because some of the levels of selenium in fish were above 2 ppm, IDEQ, requested that BEHSreview the data to determine if a fish advisory should be issued for fish consumed from streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed.


DISCUSSION

Bio-monitoring Data

Since 1997, SEAWAC investigated the occurrence and potential release of metals associatedwith phosphate mining activities in the Southeast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area. Fish from thestreams in the upper Blackfoot River watershed in southeast Idaho were collected by the miningcompanies' contractor, Montgomery Watson, in September 1998, September 1999 and May2000. Fish samples were analyzed for selenium concentrations in the skin-on fillets. The ediblefish tissue samples were collected only for harvest fish exceeding 4 inches in length. Thesummary analytical data are presented in Appendix B. The focus area is about 600 square milesof the watershed above but not including the Blackfoot Reservoir (Appendix A). The upperBlackfoot River and its tributaries provide regional sport fisheries primarily for Cutthroat Trout,but also other cold water species. There are some "catch and release" provisions forYellowstone Cutthroat Trout in the area based on size limitations. To date the site studies havebeen focused on the regional impacts of selenium releases from historic phosphate miningactivities.

Health Comparison Value

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed reference doses (RfD) andrecommended screening values (SV) for target contaminants (EPA 1995). The RfD is defined asan estimate of the daily exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that islikely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime (EPA 2000). TheRfD of 0.005 milligram per kilogram per day (mg/kg/day) was derived for clinical selenosisusing a No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level (NOAEL) of 0.015 mg/kg/day. The RfD was basedon a human epidemiological study published by Yang et al. (1989a). A NOAEL is the highestdose of a chemical where no observed adverse health effects are seen. An uncertainty factor of 3was applied to the NOAEL to account for sensitive individuals. A full factor of 10 was notdeemed necessary because similar NOAELs were identified in two moderately sized humancohorts exposed to selenium in excess of the National Research Council's RecommendedDietary Allowances (RDA) throughout a lifetime without apparent clinical signs of selenosis(EPA 2000). The RDA is 0.070 mg/day for males and 0.055 mg/day for females for vitaminsupplements.

ATSDR defines a Minimal Risk Level (MRL) as an estimate of daily human exposure to asubstance that is likely to be without appreciable risk of adverse, non-carcinogenic effects over aspecified duration of exposure. The chronic oral MRL derived by ATSDR for selenium is 0.005mg/kg/day, which is the same as EPA's RfD value. This is based on a NOAEL of 0.015mg/kg/day for dermal effects (nail disease) identified in chronically exposed people in China asreported by Yang et al. (1989a, 1989b), and divided by an uncertainty factor of 3 to account forsensitive individuals. ATSDR (2001) believes its MRL is consistent with NOAELs observed byLongnecker et al. (1991).

Screening values are target chemical concentrations in fish tissue that are of potential publichealth concern and are used as standards against which levels of contaminants in similar tissuecollected from the ambient environment can be compared. Exceeding the screening valuesindicated that more intensive site-specific monitoring and/or evaluation of human health riskshould be conducted (EPA 1995). The SVs are equal to the exposure levels at the RfD for non-carcinogens, given average ingestion rates (IR) of 6.5 grams per day (g/d) and body weights(BW) of 70 kg, for the general adult population. The EPA's SV for selenium in fish is 50 ppm.On the basis of a SV of 50 ppm, no fish advisory for general adult population would bewarranted for fish consumed from streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed.

Several states, including California, use a SV of 2 ppm. The California Environmental ProtectionAgency (CEPA) has questioned the use of the 6.5 g/d default ingestion rate that was used tocalculate the SV of 50 ppm (Gassel 1997). CEPA's recommended default ingestion rate for sportfishing populations in California is 21 g/d for the median value, 50 g/d for the mean, 107 g/d forthe 90th percentile, and 161 g/d for the 95th percentile rate when estimating consumption of bothmarine and freshwater sources of sport fish and shellfish in California. This may explain the low2 ppm health advisory level for some states, including California, as cited in the IDEQ AreaWide Risk Assessment report. However, the California fish IRs, which include marine sources,are not considered representative of fish consumption rates that would be expected from thefocus area of the streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed (freshwater).

Exposure Assumption

BEHS adopts the standard risk assessment procedures developed by EPA with minor exposureassumption adjustment to best fit Idahoan's needs. The risk assessment assumptions are listed inTable 1. BEHS considers the "no consumption restriction" category when consumption of morethan two 8 ounce fish meals per week is considered safe. Two 8 ounce meals per week yield anaverage of 65 g/day that is protective for 95% of the general population and reasonablyrepresents the consumption rate of Native Americans.

Table 1.

General risk assessment assumptions and action levels for selenium in fish
PopulationGeneral PopulationPregnant WomenaChildrenb
Body Weight (kg)c807020
Meal Size Uncooked (oz)d884
Screening Values ofSelenium in Fish (mg/kg)e6.25.43.1

a: pregnant women, women may become pregnant, and nursing mothers
b: children less than 7 years old
c: adjusted from Idaho Behavioral Risk Factors (BVRHS, 2001)
d: 1 oz = 0.0283 kg; 8 oz = 0.2268 kg
e: Reference dose of selenium is 0.005 mg/kg/day (EPA)

Calculation for Screening Values

SV equals RfD times BW times 365 divided by EF times MS

Where,

SV: Screening Value (mg/kg)
RfD: Reference Dose (mg/kg/day) (0.005 mg/kg/day for Selenium)
BW: Body weight (kg)
EF: Exposure Frequency (104 days/year)
MS: Meal Size Uncooked (kg)

The calculated screening values for selenium in fish (Table 1) are 6.2, 5.4, and 3.1 mg/kgrespectively for the general population, pregnant women and children less than 7 years old. Forthe general population and pregnant women, the average fish tissue selenium concentrations(Appendix B) of different fish species at all the locations are lower than their screening values,while the screening values are also 3 times lower than the maximum selenium concentrations(Appendix B) (BEHS 2002). Thus, there is no consumption of fish restriction for the generalpopulation and pregnant women (BEHS 2002).

With the exception of Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout from the East Mill Creek(Appendix B), all other average fish tissue selenium concentrations are lower than the screeningvalue for children, while the screening values are also 3 times lower than the maximum seleniumconcentrations (Appendix B) (BEHS 2002). Therefore, Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Troutfrom the East Mill Creek are the only fish species contributing to an advisory for children(BEHS 2002).

Limited Meals

For the Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout from the East Mill creek, we further calculatedthe limited meals for children by the following equation.

Meals/Month equals (RfD times BW divided by Conc.) times 30.44 days/mo divided by MS

Where,

RfD: Reference Dose (mg/kg-day) (0.005 mg/kg/day for selenium)
BW: Body weight (kg)
Conc: Fish tissue concentration (mg/kg)
days/mo: Days per month
MS: Meal Size Uncooked (kg)

Consumption of Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout from the East Mill Creek for children should be limited to five (4 oz) meals per month.

Temporary Selenium Fish Advisory

The goal of the Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory Program (IFCAP) is to protect the publicfrom adverse health risks associated with consuming contaminated fish from Idaho's waters. Inaccordance to the IFCAP's categories (BEHS 2002), consumption of Yellowstone Cutthroat andBrook Trout from the East Mill Creek for children should be adjusted to four (4 oz) meals permonth. Because of the small sample number (less than 10), only a temporary selenium fishadvisory has been issued (Table 2).

Table 2.

Temporary selenium fish advisory for streams of the upper Blackfoot River watershed
Species Locations Selenium Concentration
(mg/kg)
Consumption Advisory
Mean Range General Population Pregnant Women Children
Rainbow Trout All the locationsa 0.72 0.13-1.4 No fish consumption restriction b No fish consumption restriction b No fish consumption restriction c
Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout East Mill Creek 4.8 1.7-7.9 No fish consumption restriction b No fish consumption restriction b Four meals
(4 oz.) per month c
Locations except of East Mill Creek 0.85 0.1-2.5 No fish consumption restriction b No fish consumption restriction b No fish consumption restriction c

a Locations including the Upper Segment and Lower Segment of Blackfoot Reservoir, Blackfoot River, Angus Creek, Spring Creek, East Mill Creek, Timber Creek, and Stewart Creek
b More than two 8 oz. fish meals per week for general population and pregnant women
c More than two 4 oz. fish meals per week for children


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Children under the age of seven should not eat more than four (4 oz meal) meals per month ofYellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout from the East Mill Creek. There is no consumptionrestriction of Rainbow Trout nor are Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout restricted at otherlocations for children under the age of seven.

There is no fish consumption restriction for the general public and pregnant women at anylocation.

BEHS suggests sampling more Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout from the East Mill Creekto confirm that the Yellowstone Cutthroat and Brook Trout continue to pose a public healthhazard. Issuance of a formal selenium fish advisory by IFCAP will be made after sufficientsampling is conducted to fulfill the IFCAP protocol requirements. Future sampling for otherareas of the Blackfoot Reservoir and the streams is recommended only when future resources areavailable.

Issuance of the temporary fish consumption advisory for the East Mill Creek is a precautionaryaction. Idaho fishing regulations designate the Upper Blackfoot River watershed as "catch andrelease". Keeping Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout from the river is illegal. Fish from the East MillCreek are very limited. Subsistence use of this area is considered highly unlikely.


PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIONS

The following actions and activities are in progress:

  1. IFCAP will continue to remain involved with the ongoing IDEQ SeAWAC, as well as,collaborate with the IDEQ on their Area Wide Investigation activities.
  2. MW will publish a revised human health risk assessment: The 1999-2000 RemedialInvestigation Report.
  3. BEHS in collaboration with ATSDR, will further assess the potential health hazards forNative Americans consuming selenium-contaminated wild game, fish, livestock, and other foodstuffs taken from the resource area. BEHS will address potential Native American exposures onthe State and private land and ATSDR will address the Federal and Tribal land. A separate, combined Health Consultation will be completed.

REFERENCES

ATSDR 2001. Toxicological Profile for Selenium. Agency for Toxic Substances and DiseaseRegistry. September.

BEHS 2001. Health Consultation. Evaluation of Selenium in Beef, Elk, Sheep, and Fish in theSoutheast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area. Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety,Division of Health, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. June.

BEHS 2002. Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory Program Protocol. Bureau of EnvironmentalHealth and Safety, Division of Health, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

BVRHS 2001. Idaho Behavioral Risk Factors. Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics,Division of Health, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Boise, ID

EPA 1995. Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data for Use in Fish Advisories:Volume 1, Fish Sampling and Analysis, Second edition. Office of water, Washington, DC. EPA823-R-95-007.

EPA. 2000. Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Database. United States EnvironmentalProtection Agency. May.

Gassel 1997. Chemicals in Fish Report No. 1: Consumption of Fish and Shellfish in Californiaand the United States. Final Draft Report. Pesticide and Environmental Toxicology Section.Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. California Environmental ProtectionAgency. Berkeley, CA.

Longnecker, M.P., P.R. Taylor, O.A. Levander et. al.. 1991. Selenium in diet, blood, and toenailsin relation to human health in a seleniferous area. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53:1288-1294.

MW 1998. Draft 1998 Regional Investigation Report - Southeast Idaho Phosphate ResourceArea Selenium Project. Prepared for the Idaho Mining Association's Selenium Subcommittee.Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Montgomery Watson. June.

MW 1999a. Responses to Comments on the Draft 1998 Regional Investigation Report -Southeast Idaho Phosphate Resource Area Selenium Project. Bureau of Land Management(BLM) comments; K. Ford, BLM-DEN[Memo to P. Oberlandacher, BLM-BOI]. June and IdahoDepartment of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) Comments. August. and US Forest Service(USFS) Comments; A. Lemly, USFS-Blacksburg, Virginia to J Jones, USFS-Soda Springs,Idaho. Montgomery Watson. July.

MW 1999b. 1999-2000 Remedial Investigation Field Sampling Plan. Part 1 - Field SamplingPlan. Prepared for the Idaho Mining Association's Selenium Subcommittee. MontgomeryWatson. August.

MW 1999c. Final 1998 Regional Investigation Report - Southeast Idaho Phosphate ResourceArea Selenium Project. Prepared for the Idaho Mining Association's Selenium Subcommittee.Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Montgomery Watson. December.

MW 2000. DRAFT Interim Investigation Data Report for the Southeast Idaho PhosphateResource Area Selenium Project. Prepared for the Idaho Mining Association's SeleniumSubcommittee. Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Montgomery Watson. April.

MW 2001. DRAFT 1999-2000 Regional Investigation Data Report for Surface Water, Sedimentand Aquatic Biota Sampling Activities, September 1999, Southeast Idaho Phosphate ResourceArea Selenium Project. Prepared for the Idaho Mining Association's Selenium Subcommittee.Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Montgomery Watson. April.

Yang, G., R. Zhou and S. Yin. 1989a. Studies of Safe Maximal Daily Dietary Selenium Intake inSeleniferous Area of China, Part I: Selenium Intake and Tissue Selenium Levels in theInhabitants. Journal of Trace Elements and Electrolytes Heath Disease 3:77. In Talcott et. al..2000.

Yang, G., S. Yin, R. Zhou, et al. 1989b. Studies of Safe Maximal Daily Dietary Selinium Intakein a Seleniferous Area in China. II. Relation Between Selenium Intake and the Manifestation ofClinical Signs and Certain Biochemical Alterations in Blood and Urine. Journal of TraceElements and Electrolytes Health Disease 3(2): 123-130. In EPA's IRIS Database.


PREPARERS OF REPORT

Preparers of Report:

Lijun Jin
Public Health Assessor/Toxicologist
Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety
Division of Health
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare


Reviewers

Aaron Scheff, Health Education Specialist
Elke D. Shaw-Tulloch, Bureau Chief
Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety
Division of Health
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

Allen Robison
ATSDR


ATSDR Technical Project Officer
:

Gregory V. Ulirsch
Environmental Health Engineer
Superfund Site Assessment Branch
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation


ATSDR Regional Representatives

Karen L. Larson, Ph.D., Regional Representative
Office of Regional Operations, Region X
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
1200 Sixth Avenue, Room 1930 (ATS-197)
Seattle, WA 98101


CERTIFICATION

The Idaho Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety prepared this Health Consultation under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the health consultation was initiated.

Gregory V. Ulirsch
Technical Project Officer, SPS, SSAB, DHAC


The Superfund Site Assessment Branch (SSAB), Division of Health Assessment andConsultation (DHAC), ATSDR has reviewed this health consultation and concurs with itsfindings.

Sven E. Rodenbeck
for Roberta Erlwien
Chief, SSAB, DHAC, ATSDR


APPENDIX A: STREAMS OF THE UPPER BLACKFOOT WATERSHED

Streams of the Upper Blackfoot Watershed
Figure A-1. Streams of the Upper Blackfoot Watershed


APPENDIX B: FISH SELENIUM CONCENTRATION DATA (1998, 1999 AND 2000) IN THE STREAMS OF THE UPPER BLACKFOOT RIVER WATERSHED

Table B-1.

Fish Selenium Concentration Data (1998, 1999 and 2000) in the Streams of the Upper Blackfoot River Watershed
Station ID Station Description Fish Species Concentration
(mg/kg - wet weight)
# Fish
Range Mean
Blackfoot Reservoir
RV001 Upper segment Rainbow Trout 0.13-0.22 0.18 2
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.19-0.71 0.45 2
RV002 Upper segment Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.59-0.80 0.7 6
RV003 Upper segment Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.19-0.78 0.51 8
RV004 Upper segment Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.65-0.79 0.72 2
RV005 Upper segment Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.68-0.75 0.72 2
RV008 Lower segment Rainbow Trout   0.69 1
Streams
ST019 Blackfoot River, downstream of Ballard Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.17-2.2 1.1 6
ST021 Blackfoot River, downstream of Trail Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.65-1.5 1 6
ST023 Blackfoot River, downstream of Dry Valley Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.1-1.6 0.7 6
ST026 Blackfoot River, downstream of The Narrows Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.52-2.5 1.55 9
ST029 Blackfoot River, upstream of Spring Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.66-2.4 1.14 6
ST129 Angus Creek, downstream of Wooley Valley Mine Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.20-0.41 0.28 3
ST145 Spring creek, downstream of East Mill Creek Brook Trout 0.37-0.93 0.65 2
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.36-0.89 0.61 4
ST148 Spring Creek, upstream of East Mill Creek Brook Trout 0.47-1.1 0.89 3
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.15-0.19 0.17 2
ST227

(1999, 2000 data)

East Mill Creek Brook Trout 3.2-6.6 4.9 2
Yellowstone Cutthroat 1.7-4.1 2.9 2
ST227 (1998 Data) East Mill Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat Maximum: 7.9
Average: 6.0
(for these three fish)
2
Brook Trout 1
ST229 Blackfoot River, downstream of Spring Creek Brook Trout 0.41-0.91 0.66 2
Rainbow Trout   1.1 1
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.21-1.9 1 5
ST232 Blackfoot River, upstream of Blackfoot Reservoir Rainbow Trout 0.91-1.4 1.2 2
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.28-1.6 0.95 4
ST236 Timber Creek Rainbow Trout   0.59 1
Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.19-1 0.66 5
ST237 Stewart creek Yellowstone Cutthroat 0.7-1.4 0.94 6


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