Industrial Selenium Pollution: Sources and Biological Treatment Technologies



Selenium (Se) discharge into the environment is becoming a matter of increasing concern because it induces toxic effects to biota at low concentrations (several micrograms per liter). Industrial activities that include energy generation, metal and oil refining, mining, and agriculture irrigation generate effluents contaminated with selenium. Biological treatment of these effluents is gaining in popularity in recent years. Microbial reduction of selenium oxyanions to particulate elemental Se0 can be achieved in a number of bioreactor systems that are emerging as a viable bioremediation option because of their favorable cost, footprint, and treatment efficiency. Traditionally, granular sludge bioreactors (e.g., upflow anaerobic sludge blanket, UASB) have been tested for the treatment of selenium-laden wastewaters. Fluidized-bed bioreactors (FBBR) and packed-bed bioreactor systems were later adapted for Se treatment. The hydrogen-based hollow-fiber membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR) is a technology that delivers H2 gas as the electron donor by diffusion to the biofilm formed on non-porous hollow-fiber membranes. A hybrid electro-biochemical reactor (EBR) which uses electrons that are delivered from an external power source through electrodes to selenium-reducing bacteria growing on electrodes has been developed. Constructed wetlands may be useful when the wastewater is produced in large volumes, but they are sensitive to temperature fluctuations and seasonal variation of the vegetation, and they have a large footprint. If Se0 colloids are not captured efficiently within the bioreactor, a challenge is removing colloidal Se0 from the effluent. When properly recovered, Se0 can be a valuable product due to its photo-optical, semiconductive, and adsorptive properties.


Selenium Wastewater Biotreatment Bioremediation Toxicity 

List of abbreviations


Advanced biological metals removal


Biochemical oxygen demand


Chemical oxygen demand


Direct interspecies electron transfer


Dissolved oxygen


Empty bed contact time


Electro-biochemical reactor


Flue gas desulfurization


Fluidized-bed biofilm reactor


Granular activated carbon


Hydraulic residence time


Membrane biofilm reactor


North American Metal Council


Oxido-reduction potential




Elemental (zero-valent) selenium


Selenium oxyanions (selenite and selenate)


Total dissolved solids


Total organic carbon


Total suspended solids


Upflow anaerobic sludge blanket


United States Environmental Protection Agency


World Health Organization



The authors would like to thank the European Commission for providing financial support through the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programme ETeCoS3 (Environmental Technologies for Contaminated Solids, Soils and Sediments) under the grant agreement FPA no. 2010-0009. We are grateful to Dr. Joel Citulski and Nelson Fonseca (General Electric Power, Oakville, ON, Canada), Dr. Jack Adams (Inotec, Salt Lake City, UT, USA), Dr. Todd Webster (Envirogen Technologies, Inc., East Windsor, NJ, USA), and Dr. Harry Ohlendorf (CH2 M Hill, Englewood, CO, USA) for their useful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Applied Chemistry and Materials ScienceUniversity Politehnica of BucharestBucharestRomania
  2. 2.UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water EducationDelftThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Biodesign InstituteArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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