Summary of public comments received on the draft federal environmental quality guidelines for selenium

Comments on the draft Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines for Selenium were submitted by the North American Metals Council (NAMC), Mining Association of Canada (MAC), British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Alberta Environment and Parks and CanmetMining, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

Summarized public comments and responses are provided below, organized by topic.


Summarized comment Summarized response
Editorial comments related to formatting, watermarks and version control. All editorial comments were accepted and edits made.
Make corrections to existing references and include additional suggested references. Corrections to existing references made and additional references were added alongside the text.  For example, Formation Environmental 2011 replaced by Covington et al. 2018; USEPA 2019 corrected to 2018; Added DeForest et al. 2012, 2017, Chen et al. 2005; Simmons and Wallschläger 2005; Stillings 2017; Martin et al. 2018.
In substance identity section, indicate that selenium releases to surface waters are also from waste rock of other mining and processing facilities. Suggested text has been added (Selenium releases have been also reported from waste rock of other mining and processing facilities).
In uses section, update 2014 production values to most recent years and a make a reference to potential application of selenium in batteries. Production ranges have been updated to the 2015 to 2019 values from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan 2021). Possible use of selenium in rechargeable batteries has been added to various uses.
In fate behavior section, discuss differences between lentic and lotic systems, selenium cycling between water and sediment, food web and toxicity to fish and provide more backgrounds information on selenium. More discussion has been added to differences between lentic and lotic systems, selenium cycling between water and sediment (including suggested references) and food web and selenium toxicity. Chronic toxic effects to fish are summarized in the guidelines section and more details are available in ECCC, HC (2017). It is to be noted that Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines (FEQG) factsheets only provide summary background information and refer to other published sources for details (e.g., BCMOE 2014; USEPA 2016, 2018; ECCC, HC 2017).
In recent water-based guidelines from other jurisdictions section, present all available guidelines and point out that the bird egg guideline supersedes the water guidelines where both are measured. The section further clarifies that the recent water quality guidelines recommended by BCMOE (2014) and USEPA (2016) are presented for their possible use in Canada. DeForest et al. (2017) approach has been added. It has been clarified that the bird egg guideline supersedes the water guideline when data from both compartments are available.


Summarized comment Summarized response
In the ambient concentrations section, include monitoring data for sediment, fish tissue and bird egg, and update datasets with more recent data. Selenium monitoring data for sediment, fish tissue and bird egg have been added. BCMOE (2014) remains the main source for monitoring data, which has undergone peer and public reviews. In FEQG factsheets, monitoring data are only presented to give an overall perspective of ambient concentrations. No attempts are made to draw spatial or temporal trends in concentrations or exceedances.
Update fish toxicity data used for deriving fish egg ovary and body tissue guidelines. The work on selenium FEQG commenced alongside with the screening assessment and one of the objectives of the selenium FEQG was to adopt fish egg-ovary and whole-body tissue predicted no-effect concentrations (PNECs) as FEQGs. ECCC, HC (2017) has already undergone extensive peer and public reviews. Suggested toxicity endpoints were either unacceptable (if published prior to ECCC, HC 2017) or published after completion of the screening assessment. No new data searches were conducted.


Summarized comment Summarized response
Canadian environmental quality guidelines (CEQGs) published by CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) bring together the interests of all provinces and territories. Publishing FEQGs does not reflect interest across Canada and causes division among Canadian jurisdictions. ECCC works cooperatively with the CCME member jurisdictions (Provinces and Territories) to develop CEQGs, and they are the preferred choice. ECCC also develops federal environmental quality guidelines (FEQGs) for substances for which CCME guidelines are not available or not expected to be updated in the near future. FEQGs follow CCME protocols as closely as possible and undergo peer and public reviews, including review by the Canadian Envrionmental Protection Act (CEPA) National Advisory Committee, comprised of provincial and territorial members. CCME members implement environmental quality guidelines according to their own policies.
Encouraged use of more selenium toxicity testing on Canadian fish species and recommend to update fish tissue FEQGs in 5 years as new data become available. The existing fish toxicity data are extensive and include many species relevant to Canada. Comment for updating fish tissue FEQGs in 5 years has been noted.
Include detailed toxicity data, species sensitivity distribution (SSD) figures, and guideline derivation information, including use of ssdtools. Toxicity data used in SSDs are presented in Table 2 and a reference (ECCC 2017) is added for detail. ECCC, HC (2017) SSD plots for both egg-ovary and body tissue and related text have been added to the factsheet. Because the fish tissue guidelines are adopted from ECCC, HC (2017), no changes are made to data and statistical methods, including use of ssdtools.
There are examples of fish population studies for which fish tissues were above guidelines/criteria and there were no population-related effects. Naturally elevated selenium concentrations should be considered in FEQGs. ECCC, HC (2017) critically assessed all available fish toxicity data and the most preferred endpoints were considered for deriving PNECs/ FEQGs. The fish tissue guidelines offer an appropriate level of protection and generic utility. A comparison with the reference data in DeForest (2012) indicate that the vast majority of reference data are well below the egg-ovary PNEC/ FEQG. Site-specific guidelines have long been recognized as a mechanism for increasing the precision and applicability of generic guidelines. Potential approaches are given in the water-based guidelines section.
Provide greater clarity on water quality guidelines, including approaches and guidelines of BCMOE (2014), USEPA (2016, 2018) and others. The text has been revised with a clear statement that the recent water quality guidelines of BCMOE can be used in Canada. The quantile regression approach of DeForest et al. (2017) is cited and the egg-ovary guideline of DeForest et al. (2012) is presented in fish tissue guidelines section. The USEPA (2016) approach for deriving lentic and lotic criteria is discussed and suggestion has been made that the approach can be used in Canada if users are able to collect and validate the required site-specific data. The USEPA’s (2018) bird egg criterion and a performance-based approach for translating the tissue criteria into a site-specific water-column criterion are referenced.
A clear interpretation of guidelines hierarchy would be helpful. Highlight the preference for the egg-ovary guideline early in the document and make a reference that focus on the fish tissue guideline may result in increased fish mortalities due to sampling. The whole-body tissue section now includes text that the fish egg-ovary FEQG is preferred over the whole-body FEQG. Moreover, the water guideline section clearly states that the egg-ovary guideline supersedes both fish whole-body tissue and water guidelines. Text is added to reflect that excessive fish sampling may potentially affect fish populations, but the use of non-destructive sampling techniques (e.g., muscle plugs) can help in addressing this concern.
Develop sediment quality guideline and provide discussion on transfer of selenium from sediment to food chain. Sediment PNEC could not be adopted as FEQG because the PNEC did not meet CCME (1995) requirements and at best serves as an “alert concentration”, similar to BC values and other literature. Text on selenium concentrations in sediment and transfer of selenium from sediment to food chain has been added.
Provide details on the selection of studies used in deriving the USEPA (2018) bird egg guideline. The bird egg guideline may be overly conservative for species that rely less on food from aquatic sources. Details on the toxicity studies, endpoint selection and method used for developing bird egg criteria are presented in USEPA (2018). The guideline based on mallard studies (most sensitive species) is appropriately conservative for protecting aquatic-dependent birds, however, exceedances for non-aquatic birds may require further investigation.
Provide stakeholder consultation for developing standardized protocols for fish tissue and bird egg sampling and analyses. Suggested stakeholder consultation  is outside the scope of FEQG factsheet.

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