Method developed to predict areas vulnerable to selenium contamination

Using geological and climatological information, a screening method has been developed to predict where land under irrigation is likely to result in selenium contamination. Selenium contamination has led to bird embryo deformities in six areas of western America.


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Developed by four departments of the US Department of the Interior – the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs – a geology-climate map has identified approximately 160,000 square miles in the western US that are susceptible to irrigation-induced selenium contamination. According to the joint study, only 4,100 square miles of the 160,000 is currently under irrigation. The bird embryo deformities have all occurred in areas identified by the map.

The author of the Areas susceptible to irrigation-induced selenium contamination of water and biota in the Western United States, USGS hydrologist Ralph Seiler, said that new screening method offers agencies “a cost-effective took to target those areas which are most at risk”.

The USGS is America’s largest water, earth and biological sciences and civilian mapping agency. The Areas susceptible to irrigation-induced selenium contamination of water and biota in the Western United States report is available free of charge from USGS’s Denver office (telephone: 888 275 8747) by requesting Circular 1180.

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