The release of selenium (Se) and chromium (Cr) into the environment from anthropogenic activities has posed a hazard to aquatic ecosystems. In this study, we used Chlorella vulgaris for Se/Cr bioremediation and evaluated their mutual effects on the removal efficiency. Our results found C. vulgaris highly effective in removing selenite-Se(IV) (49.5 ± 1.9%), selenate-Se(VI) (93.0 ± 0.5%), chromic nitrate-Cr(III) (89.0 ± 3.2%) and dichromate-Cr(VI) (88.1 ± 1.3%) over a 72 h period. Cr(VI) significantly impeded Se removal, particularly for selenate, due to competition between both for algal uptake, whereas Cr(III) obviously enhanced Se removal, increasing Se volatilization by ~29%. Similarly, Se significantly increase Cr removal rates, with a maximum of 94.6 ± 0.2% for the algal co-exposed to Se(IV) and Cr(III). To reduce residual pollutants in the alga, we applied combustion as a post-treatment to burn off >99% of the biomass Se for all Se treatments, whereas most of the biomass Cr (54.7–81.6%) remained in the ash at significantly higher levels (~7430 μg Cr/g DW). For toxicity, our speciation analysis found organo-Se (SeCys and SeMet) dominant in the alga exposed to Se, particularly selenite. No Cr(VI) but Cr(III) forms were detected in all Cr-exposed alga. Elemental Se disappeared from all Se-exposed alga in the presence of Cr(VI), while Se resulted in the emergence of Cr-acetate in all Cr(III)-treated alga. After combustion, mineral Se, particularly elemental Se dominated most of the ash; likewise, elemental Cr, along with Cr2O3, was found in all the ash. Overall, our research would contribute to developing a low ecotoxic algal treatment system for Se/Cr contaminated water.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes