Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment

Household products related to emerging contaminants "Emerging contaminants" can be broadly defined as any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment but has the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and(or) human health effects. In some cases, release of emerging chemical or microbial contaminants to the environment has likely occurred for a long time, but may not have Household products related to emerging contaminantsbeen recognized until new detection methods were developed. In other cases, synthesis of new chemicals or changes in use and disposal of existing chemicals can create new sources of emerging contaminants.

Research is documenting with increasing frequency that many chemical and microbial constituents that have not historically been considered as contaminants are present in the environment on a global scale. These "emerging contaminants" or "contaminants of emerging concern" are commonly derived from municipal, agricultural, and industrial wastewater sources and pathways. These newly recognized contaminants represent a shift in traditional thinking as many are produced industrially yet are dispersed to the environment from domestic, commercial, and industrial uses.

The major goal of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment Investigation is to provide information on these compounds for evaluation of their potential threat to environmental and human health. To accomplish this goal, the research activities of this project are to: (1) develop analytical methods to measure chemicals and microorganisms or their genes in a variety of matrices (e.g. water, sediment, waste) down to trace levels, (2) determine the environmental occurrence of these potential contaminants, (3) characterize the myriad of sources and source pathways that determine contaminant release to the environment, (4) define and quantify processes that determine their transport and fate through the environment, and (5) identify potential ecologic effects from exposure to these chemicals or microorganisms. Project research on contaminants of emerging concern is being conducted within these five areas. The following links provide more detailed information.

  1. Analytical Methods Development
  2. Environmental Occurrence
  3. Sources and Source Pathways
  4. Transport and Fate
  5. Ecological Effects
USGS scientist collecting periphyton samples
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist collects periphyton samples from Nantahala river near Hewitt, North Carolina Photo Credit: Celeste Journey, USGS.
USGS sceintists sampling groundwater
USGS Hydrologists Tristen Tagliaferri and Irene Fisher sampling shallow groundwater downgradient of septic systems in Kismet, New York (Fire Island), December 2011. Photo Credit: Chris Schubert, USGS.

Contaminants of Emerging Concern Related Science Features

New Publications

Upcoming Publications

  • An introduction to joint research by the USEPA and USGS on contaminants of emerging concern in source and treated drinking waters of the United States: Kolpin, D.W., Glassmeyer, S.T., and Furlong, E.T., Science of the Total Environment (IN PRESS).
  • The importance of quality control in validating concentrations of contaminants of emerging concern in source and treated drinking water samples: Batt, A.L., Furlong, E.T., Mash, H.E., Glassmeyer, S.T., and Kolpin, D.W., Science of the Total Environment (IN PRESS).
  • Human health screening and public health significance of contaminants of emerging concern detected in public water supplies: Benson, R., Conerly, O.D., Sander, W., Angela L. Batt, J.S.B., Furlong, E.T., Glassmeyer, S.T., Kolpin, D.W., Mash, H.E., Schenck, K.M., and Simmons, J.E., Science of the Total Environment (IN PRESS).
  • A national reconnaissance of neonicotinoid insecticides in streams of the United States: Kolpin, D.W., and Hladik, M.L., Norman Bulletin (IN PRESS).
  • Rainfall runoff of anthropogenic waste indicators from agricultural test plots applied with municipal biosolids: Gray, J.L., Borch, T., Furlong, E.T., Davis, J., Yager, T.J., Yang, Y.-Y., and Kolpin, D.W., Science of the Total Environment (IN PRESS).
  • Aquatic concentrations of chemical analytes compared to ecotoxicity estimates: Kostich, M.S., Flick, R.W., Batt, A.L., Mash, H.E., Boone, J.S., Furlong, E.T., Kolpin, D.W., and Glassmeyer, S.T., Science of the Total Environment, in press (IN PRESS).
  • Nationwide reconnaissance of contaminants of emerging concern in source and treated drinking waters of the United States--Pharmaceuticals: Furlong, E.T., Batt, A.L., Glassmeyer, S.T., Noriega, M.C., Kolpin, D.W., Mash, H., and Schenck, K.M., Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.128 (IN PRESS).

Newly Published

Select Information on Emerging Contaminant Research Outside the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

More Information

Get Acrobat

The page either contains links to .pdf files, which can be viewed with Adobe Reader®.
You can download Adobe Reader® for free.


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

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

USA.gov logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page URL: http://toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/cec/index.php
Page Content Contact Information: webmaster@toxics.usgs.gov
Page Last Modified: October 25 2016