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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

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Highlights of our latest research findings, and examples of application to real problems.

Power plant smoke stacks

Comprehensive Assessment of Mercury in Streams Explains Major Sources, Cycling, and Effects

A new USGS report, Mercury in the Nation's Streams—Levels, Trends, and Implications, presents a comprehensive assessment of mercury contamination in streams across the United States. It highlights the importance of environmental processes, monitoring, and control strategies for understanding and reducing stream mercury levels. ...


USGS Hydrologist sampling a public supply well

Contaminant Transport Models Aid in Understanding Trends of Chlorinated Ethenes in Public Supply Wells

USGS scientists used a mass–balance solute–transport model to enhance an understanding of factors affecting chlorinated ethene (CE) concentrations in a public supply well. They found that long–term simulated and measured CE concentrations were affected by dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) volume, composition, and by ...


Three scientists holding a sediment core. The core is in a plastic tube

Natural Breakdown of Petroleum Results in Arsenic Mobilization in Groundwater

Changes in geochemistry from the natural breakdown of petroleum hydrocarbons in groundwater promote mobilization of naturally occurring arsenic from aquifer sediments into groundwater. This geochemical change can result in potentially significant and overlooked arsenic groundwater contamination. Arsenic is ...


Spirit Creek, Georgia

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Persist Downstream from the Source

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) were transported 2 kilometers downstream of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) outfall in a coastal plain stream. EDCs persisted downstream of the outfall with little change in the numbers of EDCs and limited decreases in EDC concentrations. ...


USGS scientist preparing water samples for glyphosate analysis

Organic Geochemistry Research Laboratory Scored High on Proficiency Testing for Glyphosate

In a recent inter–laboratory comparison of 28 international laboratories, the USGS Organic Geochemistry Research Laboratory (OGRL) scored A's for the analysis of glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in this proficiency testing. ...


Scientists measuring field water-quality parameters

Land Disposal of Wastewater Can Result in Elevated Mercury in Groundwater

Field studies conducted in the United States have shown that mercury concentrations in groundwater affected by wastewater disposal can exceed the drinking water maximum contaminant level (MCL) established by the Environmental Protection Agency (2 micrograms per liter of water, µg/L). Two recently published reports by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Maine, and the USGS help to explain what can lead to elevated mercury levels in groundwater. ...


USGS scientists Dr. Michael T. Meyer in the labortory

Recognition for a USGS Scientist in Service to Others

USGS scientist Dr. Michael T. Meyer has had a prolific career, publishing 60 journal articles and 45 USGS publications. Mike's publication record has recently led to his designation as a Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher, ranking among the top 1 percent of researchers from 2002 to 2012 for most cited documents in their specific field (Environment/Ecology). ...


A small creek with wells used for groundwater sampling

Chemicals Found in Treated Wastewater are Transported from Streams to Groundwater

USGS scientists studying a midwestern stream conclude that pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in treated wastewater effluent discharged to the stream are transported into adjacent shallow groundwater. Other mobile chemicals found ...


A USGS scientist collecting a water sample from a manhole

Pharmaceuticals and Other Chemicals Common in Landfill Waste

Landfill leachate contains a variety of chemicals that reflect our daily activities, USGS scientists concluded as a result of a nationwide study. Landfills are a common disposal mechanism for our Nation's solid waste from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. The scientists found ...


Schematic of transport of neonicotinoid insecticides from field to stream

Neonicotinoid Insecticides Documented in Midwestern U.S. Streams

Three neonicotinoid insecticides (clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid) were detected commonly throughout the growing season in water samples collected from nine Midwestern stream sites during the 2013 growing season according to a team of USGS scientists. Clothianidin was ...


Reflooded post-harvest rice straw

Water Management During Rice Production Influences Methylmercury Production

USGS scientists found that management practices relating to water drawdown and re-flooding in agricultural wetlands used for rice production contributed to higher methylmercury concentrations in sediment than was found in nonagricultural wetlands that were permanently or seasonally flooded. ...


USGS scientists collecting water-qualty samples from observation wells

Pipeline Crude Oil Spill Still a Cleanup Challenge after 30 Years

Research at a 1979 crude oil spill from a ruptured pipeline has exposed and helped to overcome many challenges facing an effective, cost-efficient cleanup of crude oil, USGS scientists have found. The environmental release of crude oil occurred near ...


Early spring view of a stream in Iowa with melting snow

Toxins Produced by Molds Measured in U.S. Streams

A team of scientists from the USGS and the Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon Research Station, Switzerland, found that some mycotoxins are common in U. S. stream waters. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by molds (fungi) that can ...


Areal photograph of lakes in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Complex Response to Decline in Atmospheric Deposition of Mercury

USGS scientists found that mercury concentrations in shallow waters and methylmercury (MeHg) concentrations in fish in four lakes in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, were not consistent with decreases in the wet atmospheric deposition of mercury recorded at nearby monitoring stations for over a decade. ...


A soil sampler in an farm field

Chemicals from Land-Applied Biosolids Persist in Soil

A study by scientists from the USGS and Colorado State University-Pueblo shows that some chemicals in biosolids that are applied to nonirrigated farmland are sufficiently persistent and mobile to move into the soil beneath farm fields. Biosolids are ...


USGS scientists collecting a soil sample

High Levels of Natural Perchlorate in a Desert Ecosystem

Naturally formed perchlorate falls from the atmosphere and accumulates in the soil of a Nevada desert at rates several times greater than previously thought, according to research by USGS and Texas Tech University scientists published in the Journal of Environmental Quality. The study is the first to document how natural perchlorate is ...


A view of a farm fields in Iowa

Common Weed Killer is Widespread in the Environment

USGS scientists report that glyphosate, known commercially by many trade names, and its degradation product AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) are transported off-site from agricultural and urban sources and occur widely in the environment. This study is ...


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