The case for re-evaluating the upper limit value for selenium in drinking water in Europe

Université de Poitiers, Laboratoire de Chimie et Microbiologie de l'Eau, UMR CNRS 6008, 40, avenue du Recteur Pineau, 86022 Poitiers Cedex, France.
Journal of Water and Health (Impact Factor: 1.46). 08/2009; 7(4):630-41. DOI: 10.2166/wh.2009.097
Source: PubMed


Selenium is an essential trace element for life, which can be toxic for humans when intakes reach a certain amount. Therefore, since the margin between healthy intake and toxic intake is narrow, the selenium concentration of tap water is a parameter that must be monitored because of its potential for increased intake. The present work gives an overview of the different approaches used to calculate safe limits for selenium. As recommended by WHO, the guidelines for drinking water form the basis of national legislated standards for drinking water. Before setting a maximum acceptable level in drinking water, it is necessary to take into account the total intake of selenium in both food and beverage. The limit value of 10 microg l(-1) for drinking water laid down in the European regulations for all countries should be adapted depending on geographic area, as previously recommended by WHO.

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    • "The issue of toxicity of selenium in drinking water has attracted debate since the 1970s (Pletnikova, 1970; Lafond and Calabrese, 1979; Hammer, 1981; Alexander, 1993; Barron et al., 2009; Gore et al., 2010; Gilron, 2012). Reflective of this controversy, a range of different standards and guidelines have been adopted or proposed (ICAIR -Life Systems Inc., 1990; WHO, 1996, 2011a; European Council , 1998; Vinceti et al., 2009; OEHHA, 2010; Gilron, 2012; ANSES, 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Results of recent epidemiologic studies suggest the need to reassess the safe upper limit in drinking water of selenium, a metalloid with both toxicological and nutritional properties. Observational and experimental human studies on health effects of organic selenium compounds consumed through diet or supplements, and of inorganic selenium consumed through drinking water, have shown that human toxicity may occur at much lower levels than previously surmised. Evidence indicates that the chemical form of selenium strongly influences its toxicity, and that its biological activity may differ in different species, emphasizing the importance of the few human studies on health effects of the specific selenium compounds found in drinking water. Epidemiologic studies that investigated the effects of selenate, an inorganic selenium species commonly found in drinking water, together with evidence of toxicity of inorganic selenium at low levels in from in vitro and animal studies, indicate that health risks may occur at exposures below the current European Union and World Health Organization upper limit and guideline of 10 and 40μg/l, respectively, and suggest reduction to 1μg/l in order to adequately protect human health. Although few drinking waters are currently known to have selenium concentrations exceeding this level, the public health importance of this issue should not be overlooked, and further epidemiologic research is critically needed in this area.
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