Evaluation of urinary selenium as a biomarker of human occupational exposure to elemental and inorganic selenium

  • A. GreinerEmail author
  • J. Hildebrand
  • R. Feltes
  • W. Uter
  • H. Drexler
  • T. Göen
Original Article



Selenium (Se) is an essential trace element, which however, exhibits a narrow safe range of intake. Selenium also occurs at several workplaces, which results in an inhalative selenium exposure of the employees. Thus, an efficient exposure assessment strategy is demanded. The most established parameter, selenium in plasma, mostly consists of protein-bound selenium. This study aimed to investigate urinary total selenium (Se-U) as an additional biomarker of recent human occupational exposure to elemental and inorganic selenium.


Pre- and post-shift urine samples from employees with exposure to selenium-containing dust were analyzed to total selenium and compared with Se levels in urine samples from controls without occupational exposure to selenium as well as correlated with the recent ambient Se exposure by personal air monitoring.


Se-U in post-shift samples was considerably increased compared to the levels in pre-shift samples as well as to the controls. However, Se-U in pre-shift urine was elevated compared to the Se-U in controls too. Se-U in post-shift urine and even better the shift increment in Se-U correlated with the air exposure of the present shift. A rough estimation by Se-U shift increment and external exposure accounted for an inhalative resorption rate of about 1%.


Our data indicate that Se-U can display the exposure. Pre-shift Se-U levels may be based on previous exposure and indicate a slow urinary elimination kinetics. The results hint for a rather low resorption rate of selenium and inorganic selenium compounds via the lung.


Selenium Occupational exposure Urine Biomonitoring Resorption 



We are grateful to all employees who participated in this study, to the staff of the involved plants and the occupational physicians. In particular, we would like to thank Dr. Ch. Bräu-Dümler and her team of the occupational medicine center, Röthenbach. Our thanks go to the involved laboratory and staff of the Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental medicine, Erlangen. We gratefully acknowledge the financial and logistic support from the REACH Selenium and Tellurium consortium and the Franz-Koelsch Foundation. The present work was performed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for obtaining the degree “Dr. rer. nat.” of Jörg Hildebrand.


This study was carried out with financial and logistic support from the REACH Selenium and Tellurium Consortium and the Franz-Koelsch-Foundation. The sponsors were not involved in the study design as well as evaluation, interpretation and publication of the results.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethics approval

All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the ethics committee of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (Ref. Nr. 257_16B) and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

All participants were informed both orally and in writing about the study and gave their written consent. All selenium-exposed workers of the plant were asked to participate and all but two of the available workers were willing to take part in the study.

Supplementary material

420_2019_1489_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (157 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 157 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute and Outpatient Clinic of Occupational, Social and Environmental MedicineFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Medical Informatics, Biometry and EpidemiologyFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany

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