Front Porch Blog

Take Action: Protect Appalachian Streams from Toxic Selenium

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed new national recommended water quality criteria for selenium. Because these new standards are weaker and more complex than the current standards, they pose a major threat to the health of streams in coal-impacted communities.

Selenium is a pollutant released from many mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia that is extremely toxic to fish at very low levels. Over time, it builds up in fish and other aquatic organisms leading to reproductive failure, deformities and death.

The EPA’s proposed standards are too weak to be protective of aquatic life. Studies have shown negative effects of selenium at levels half as high as the fish tissue standards proposed by the agency. These standards are even weaker than those proposed by the EPA in 2004, which were withdrawn after public comments from agencies and scientists demonstrated that they would not protect aquatic life.

A table of current and proposed EPA selenium standards. Click to enlarge.

By partially basing the standards on fish tissue sampling, the EPA has created a significant burden for citizens and agencies trying to enforce the limits on selenium pollution. Fish tissue sampling will be more expensive and time consuming, and it will require special permits for collecting fish. This is especially problematic in Appalachia, where selenium standards have primarily been enforced through citizen actions. These standards will be more difficult to enforce, and will just lead to more streams being degraded.

Tell the EPA not to weaken Selenium Standards

Please take a few minutes to email with the subject line “Attention Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0019”, and let them know that we need strong water based standards for selenium, that will protect all aquatic life. The comment period has been extended through July 28, 2014.

An expert kayaker with a serious passion for protecting our waterways, Eric served as our Water Quality Specialist for the Appalachian Water Watch team from 2010 to 2015.


  1. Michelle Mallamo says:

    Stop polluting our waters! This is so shameful! WV deserves clean water free of pollution! Water is a basic human right! Do not weaken selenium standards!

  2. Testing for selenium so far along downstream does not make the problem go away, it just makes it harder for you to find the source.

  3. Teri says:

    Going to hearing today in Kentucky they have turned a blind eye too long. They have known for years we have a selenium problem but keep bowing to coal interest. Kentuckians deserve clean safe water.

  4. Joe Ann Auslander says:

    Clean drinking water should be right that all Americans enjoy! I am a Kentuckian and I think Coal Companies should be forced to care more about the environment and the harm that they do; and take the necessary steps to clean up their business practices.

  5. Shawn Sargent says:

    This is unconscionable; the EPA, has to do better to Regulate selenium, for the people of Kentucky and for their precious natural resources that are being compromised by the Coal Companies.

  6. Cheryl Gale says:


  7. Julieta Navarro says:

    The pollution happening in one place afects all creatures. To stop polluting it’s a universal responsibility EPA and the US government have to assume.
    Thanks to the people and organizations pointing out!

  8. Kim Rendigs says:

    We need strong water based standards for selenium that will protect all aquatic life.

  9. Vaughn N. Anderson says:

    Tell both of your Kentucky U.S. Senators to stop obstruction and support the EPA in addressing and solving these pollution PROBLEMS or take action to vote them both out of office.

  10. erin yarrobino says:

    Kentucky residents deserve safe water.

  11. Edith Coleman says:

    Please strengthen the proposed standards for selenium, a pollutant from mountaintop mines and cola ash ponds.

    Thank you very much!

    Edith Coleman

  12. Marguerite Cambria says:

    Safe water for all!

  13. James Jeffrey says:

    Please strengthen our clean water laws.

  14. kathy durrum says:

    Protect Appalachian Streams From Toxic Selenium

  15. K. Kubzdela says:

    Please do not change the current national recommended water quality criteria for selenium. The current proposal weakens the current water quality standards and makes them much harder to enforce by local organizations. Given that EPA does not have enough resources to frequently check water quality in all US waters, please do not create standards that become even more difficult to check and thus adhere to, and in reality are likely to lower water quality standards in many communities.

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