USGS - science for a changing world

Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


Toxic Substances Hydrology Program Investigations

The USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program has studies focused on issues of national concern including contaminants associated with unconventional oil and gas and uranium extractions, home and personal-care products, agricultural production, industrial processes.

The Redwood River, Minnesota, with a plume of water dyed red with rhodamine dye.
Scientists used florescent dye and bromide to track river water to which two emerging contaminants had been added - 4-nonylphenol and 17β-estradiol. This allowed the scientists to study the natural attenuation of the two compounds as they were transported down the Redwood River, Minnesota. Photo credit: Jeffrey H. Writer, USGS -- from the Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Investigation

USGS scientist collecting water samples and measuring water field properties

Chemical Mixtures and Environmental Effects

The USGS is investigating the occurrence and environmental effects of complex mixtures of both natural and man-made chemicals in environmental waters.

USGS scientist with equipment used to inject fluids for a bioaugmentation experiment

Chlorinated Solvents in Fractured-Rock Aquifers

The USGS is investigating the hydrological, geochemical, and microbiological processes controlling contaminant fate in fractured-rock aquifers. Long-term field experiments are currently conducted at a former aircraft engine test facility in West Trenton, New Jersey, where high concentrations of trichloroethene persist in sedimentary rocks despite two decades of groundwater pumping and treatment.

Four sample bottels filled with leachate

Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment

The USGS is conducting source-to-receptor research on a broad range of chemical and microbial contaminants including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pathogens, antibiotic resistant genes, and natural toxins that are not commonly considered in environmental research but have the potential to impact environmental health.

USGS scientists collecting a water sample from a well at the USGS Bemidji Research Site

Crude Oil Contamination in the Shallow Subsurface

This investigation focuses on the long-term persistence in soils and groundwater of petroleum hydrocarbon spills, including crude oil and refined petroleum fuels. The study site near Bemidji, MN, is a laboratory for developing site assessment tools and understanding chemical changes affecting human and environmental health that occur during natural attenuation of petroleum hydrocarbons..

USGS scientist operating an autotrace unit to process water samples in a laboratory.
USGS scientist using an autotrace to extract pesticides from water samples in preparation for gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis. The autotrace automates the processing of large numbers of samples -- from the Pesticide Contamination in Varied Pesticide-Use Settings Investigation

USGS scientist lifting a sample bottle from ice hole

Fate and Effects of Wastes from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

This study is assessing the environmental health risks associated with wastes from unconventional oil and gas development by characterizing waste materials, identifying potential environmental pathways, and evaluating the potential effects on organisms from exposure to unintended waste releases.

USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone

Low-Level Radioactive and Mixed- Hazardous Wastes

The objective of research at the Amargosa Desert Research Site, Nevada, is to improve understanding of processes controlling the migration and fate of contaminants in arid environments, and the environmental-health implications of disposed radioactive and industrial waste.


Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystems

This investigation focuses on understanding mercury sources, pathways and key processes in the environment, with particular emphasis on mercury methylation and accumulation in aquatic ecosystems.

USGS scientist collecting a water-quality sample from Zollner Creek, Oregon

Pesticide Contamination and Environmental Exposure

The USGS is developing methods to measure new pesticides and their byproducts in environmental media, conducting studies on the fate of these chemicals, and assessing exposure and potential effects on fish, wildlife, and human health.

Four microcosm bottles with labels
USGS scientists are conducting laboratory experiments to investigate microbial responses to additives used in hydraulic fracturing to recover unconventional oil and gas resources. Pictured are four bottles containing stream water and sediment called microcosms. Photo credit: Andrea Fraser, USGS -- from the Fate and Effects of Wastes from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development Investigation

White tanks used to hold the tracer injection solutions with tubing going to injection wells

Sewage-Contaminated Ground Water

The USGS is investigating a wastewater plume in a shallow aquifer near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to increase the understanding of the physical, chemical, and microbiological processes that affect the fate and transport of contaminants in groundwater.

View of Cement Creek, a mining impacted stream in Colorado

Watershed Contamination from Metal and Uranium Mining

The goal of this investigation is to provide improved information and tools to support decisions related to management, risk assessment, remediation planning, and mitigation of the effects of hard-rock metal mining and uranium mining on watersheds and ecosystems.

More Information


USGS Home Water Climate Change Science Systems Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Environmental Health Hazards

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information:
Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 19-Apr-2016 16:31:34 EDT