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Emerging Contaminants in the Environment

A technician deploying a passive sampler in a tributary of the Shenandoah River, Virginia.
A technician deploying a passive sampler in a tributary of the Shenandoah River, Virginia, during a study of the biological activity of steroid hormones, such as glucocorticoids, in U.S. Streams. Photo credit: Luke R. Iwanowicz, USGS.

USGS scientist collecting a water sample from Boulder Creek, Colorado.
A USGS scientist collecting a water-quality sample from Boulder Creek, Colorado. USGS scientists have shown that many chemicals discharged from municipal wastewater treatment facilities persist for miles downstream at levels known, or suspected, to cause adverse health impacts to aquatic organisms—including endocrine disruption in fish. Photo credit: Jennifer Beck, USGS.

A USGS scientist prepares a tracer solution in a gas-tight bladder.
Scientists setting up equipment used to apply artificial rainfall to a small test plot on a field that received an application of biosolids. The scientists captured the runoff from the plot for later chemical analysis. Photo credit: V. Cory Stephens, USGS.

Diagram of the nitrogen cycle shows were antibiotics could impact denitrifying bacteria.
This diagram of the nitrogen cycle shows were in the cycle antibiotics could impact the ability of denitrifying bacteria to process nitrates and nitrites in groundwater. The diagram is a modified version of figure 9 from USGS SIR 2004-5144, page 16.

A USGS scientist prepares a sample within an anaerobic glove box.
A USGS scientist prepares a sample to test the effect of antibiotics on subsurface denitrifying bacteria within a glove box. A glove box allows scientists to work with samples in an anaerobic (no oxygen) atmosphere, the conditions under which denitrification occurs. Photo credit: Jennifer C. Underwood, USGS.

USGS scientist holding a biofilm covered stone from Boulder Creek, Colo.
USGS scientist holding a stone from Boulder Creek, Colo., that's covered with a biofilm. USGS scientists found that the biofilm that coats many of the stones on the bottom of the creek absorbs endocrine-disrupting compounds. Photo credit: Ronald C. Antweiler, USGS.

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.

Aerial photograph of the Boulder Wastewater Treatment Facility, Colorado.
The Boulder Wastewater Treatment Facility, Colorado (circa 2005), before the upgrade to an activated sludge treatment process. A team of scientists demonstrated that the upgrade to the treatment process at the wastewater treatment facility reduced the level of endocrine disruption in fish exposed to wastewater effluent discharged from the facility.

USGS scientists collecting a water sample from South Fork Iowa River near Blairsburg, Iowa
USGS scientists collecting a sample from South Fork Iowa River headwaters near Blairsburg, Iowa (Site ID 05451070) for analysis of phytoestrogens and some mycotoxins. The scientists collected 75 stream samples from across in Iowa during 2008. Photo Credit: M. Kate Holt (USGS).

Graph of average concentrations of antidepressants in water, sediment, and fish neural tissue
Average concentrations of antidepressants in water, sediment, and fish neural tissue from Boulder Creek just below the point where wastewater from a sewage treatment plant is discharged (USGS Site ID 400305105103901). Since concentration units differed for each sample type, the concentrations were normalized to the highest single antidepressant concentration in each sample type (highest concentration was set to equal one). The graph shows that fish selectively absorb some antidepressants more than others.

USGS scientist dissecting a fish
USGS scientist dissecting a fish to determine possible effects from exposure to endocrine disrupting contaminants.

USGS scientist measuring pH and other water properties on the banks of Fourmile Creek, Iowa.
USGS scientist measuring pH and other water properties on the banks of Fourmile Creek, Iowa, before collecting a sediment sample for laboratory biodegradation experiments on detergent degradation products.

Scientist collected earthworms from a soybean field fertilized with biosolids.
Scientist collected earthworms from a soybean field fertilized with biosolids. The earthworms were analyzed for 77 different chemicals; 20 chemicals were detected in the earthworms.

USGS scientist measuring pH and other water properties on the banks of Fourmile Creek, Iowa.
USGS scientist measuring pH and other water properties on the banks of Fourmile Creek, Iowa, before collecting a sediment sample for laboratory biodegradation experiments on potential wastewater indicators, such as caffeine, nicotine, and cotinine.

Glass serum vials (bottles in the foreground and in the box) are used for microcosms experiments.
Glass serum vials (bottles in the foreground and in the box) are used to construct microcosms for laboratory biodegradation experiments on potential wastewater indicators, such as caffeine, nicotine, and cotinine. The syringe is use for injecting chemicals for testing and withdrawing samples for analysis. Radioactive labeled chemicals (vial on right) are used so reaction products can be identified.

Aquariums where male fathead minnows were exposed to the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant.
Aquariums where male fathead minnows were exposed to the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant. USGS scientists and their colleagues found that exposure to the wastewater from a sewage treatment plant caused endocrine disruption in the minnows.

Diagram of an activated sludge tank at a wastewater treatment plant and a holding area for biosolids
Biosolids are the sludge generated by the treatment of sewage at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). WWTPs produce a variety of biosolids products for agricultural, landscape, and home use. Depicted in the diagram is an activated sludge tank at a wastewater treatment plant (upper left) and a holding area for biosolids (lower right). (The two photos are not from the same facility.)

Graph of concentrations of rare earth elements in wastewater discharged to Boulder Creek, Colorado
Concentrations of rare earth elements in wastewater discharged to Boulder Creek, Colorado, compared with upstream and downstream samples. Concentrations are normalized to the North American Shale Composite, and shown on a logarithmic scale. The graph shows that the discharge from wastewater treatment plants can be enriched with gadolinium (Gd).

Graph of the average frequency of detection of emerging contaminants.
Average frequency of detection of emerging contaminants by compound class in 10 wastewater discharges from across the Nation. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of compounds in each class.

Cyanobacterial accumulation at Binder Lake, IA, with a dead fish - Date 6-29-06 - Jennifer Graham
Cyanobacterial accumulation at Binder Lake, IA, dominated by the blue green algae Microcystis sp. with a dead fish. USGS scientists studied the effects of harmful algal blooms on lake water quality found that blooms of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in Midwestern lakes produced mixtures of cyanotoxins and taste-and-odor causing compounds, which co-occurred in lake water samples.

Algal bloom warning sign on the shore of Marion Reservoir, KS - Date 6-29-06 - Jennifer Graham.
Marion Reservoir, KS, with a posted advisory warning the public not to come into contact with the cyanobacteria bloom present in the lake (circa 2006). USGS scientists investigated the effects of harmful algal blooms like this one on lake water quality in several Midwestern lakes.

USGS scientist collecting a sample of algae from Binder Lake, IA - Date 08-08-06 - Jennifer Graham
Dripping algae leaves an impact — A USGS scientist collecting a sample of algae for analysis during a study of the effects of harmful algal blooms on lake water quality. The divots left from the algae dripping from the sampler shows how thick these accumulations can be. Microcystis sp. dominated this accumulation at Binder Lake, Iowa.

USGS scientist in a laboratory preparing water samples for bacterial DNA analysis.
USGS scientists use a variety of microbiological and chemical methods to evaluate the microbiological quality of water. In this photo, a USGS scientist prepares to analyze bacterial DNA extracted from water samples.

A conceptual diagram of the setup of the subsurface tracer test.
A conceptual diagram of the setup of the subsurface tracer test. A solution of bromide (conservative tracer), 17ß-estradiol, 4-nonylphenol, and sulfamethoxazole was injected into the subsurface. A series of corresponding water samples were collected from the multilevel sampler down gradient of the injection well.

USGS scientist holding a dissolved oxygen probe in the water of Fourmile Creek, Iowa.
USGS scientist determining if enough dissolved oxygen is present for biodegradation of hormones in Fourmile Creek, Iowa. A team of scientists demonstrated there is a significant potential for the biodegradation of three hormones, estrone, 17ß-estradiol, and testosterone, in the bottom sediments of streams that received wastewater from sewage treatment plants.

USGS scientist removing the brain from a white sucker fish.
USGS scientist removing the brain from a fish (a white sucker) collected from Fourmile Creek near Ankeny, Iowa. The scientists tested the fish's brain for the presence of antidepressant drugs. Traces of antidepressant drugs were found in fish and also in the water from Fourmile Creek.

USGS hydrologic technicians collecting a water-quality sample from Hallocks Mill Brook, NY.
USGS hydrologic technicians collecting a water sample from Hallocks Mill Brook downstream of the outfall of a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The technicians collected the sample as part of an investigation of the occurrence of pharmaceuticals in WWTP effluents that receive wastewater from pharmaceutical formulation facilities.

USGS scientists processing samples of combined sewer overflow water collected after a storm.
USGS scientists processing samples of combined sewer overflow (CSO) water collected after a storm. The samples were analyzed for selected wastewater-related chemicals as part of a study to determine if CSOs increase or decrease the occurrence of wastewater-related chemicals in receiving waters.

A map showing network of 139 streams sampling locations across 30 states.
During the National Stream Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project USGS scientists collected water samples from a network of 139 streams across 30 states during 1999 and 2000.

Croton Dam, New York, part of the New York City water supply system.
The USGS collected water samples from 11 stream sites in the Croton Watershed (a drinking-water resource for New York City) during 2000 for the National Stream Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

USGS hydraulic technician collecting a water sample from the Jordan River, UT.
USGS hydraulic technician collecting a water sample from the Jordan River, Utah, for the National Stream Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

Downstream view of the Little Arkansas River near Sedqwick, KS.
Downstream view of the Little Arkansas River near Sedqwick, KS, where sediment and water samples were collected for an Emerging Contaminants Investigation.

Photo of the North Branch Boardman River, MI.
This location on the North Branch Boardman River, MI, was used to represent “background” conditions (theoretical uncontaminated conditions) for the National Stream Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

USGS technicians measuring field parameters with a multiparameter meter in a stream.
Field technicians measuring field parameters with a multiparameter meter in a stream during a reconnaissance study of emerging contaminants in the environment.

USGS scientists processing a groundwater sample in a sampling chamber.
Experienced personnel use proven methods that enable representative environmental samples to be collected from a well in the well network for the National Groundwater Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

View of a wellhead in Idaho.
View of a wellhead in Idaho that was sampled for the National Groundwater Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

A sample bottle being filled at a well head.
Filling a sample bottle for analysis of emerging contaminants during the National Groundwater Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

Scientist and landowner taking a water-level measurement from a well.
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality scientist and a landowner (behind the first person) are taking a water-level measurement from a well that's part of the network used for the National Groundwater Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

USGS scientists sample for bacteria in groundwater at Clinch Beach, Traverse City, MI.
USGS scientists sample for bacteria in groundwater at Clinch Beach, Traverse City, MI, as part of a study of bacterial contamination at beaches.

USGS scientist with a sediment sampler on the banks of the South Platte River, CO.
USGS scientist with a sediment sampler on the banks of the South Platte River, CO, during a sampling trip for the National Streambed-Sediment Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

USGS scientist sampling sediments from the South Platte River, CO.
USGS scientist sampling sediments from the South Platte River, CO, for the National Streambed-Sediment Reconnaissance for Emerging Contaminants Project.

A map of sampling locations for the Iowa Urban Study of emerging contaminants.
During 2001, 76 water samples were collected upstream and downstream of selected towns and cities during the Iowa Urban Study of emerging contaminants.

Processing of water sample with a cone splitter.
Sample processing of water collected at a drinking-water-plant intake with a cone splitter -- Caloosahatchee River, FL. USGS has conducted a national reconnaissance of the occurrence of emerging contaminants in source waters.

USGS scientist on a boat lowering a surface-water sampler with a crane.
As part of the USGS's national reconnaissance of the occurrence of emerging contaminants in source waters, scientists collected water samples near intake structures for water-supply plants. Here a USGS technician on a water-quality sampling boat is operating a crane with a water-quality sampler attached -- Duck River, TN.

An intake structure for a water-supply plant on the Duck River, TN.
An intake structure for a water-supply plant on the Duck River, TN, where USGS scientists collected water samples for a national reconnaissance of the occurrence of emerging contaminants in source waters.

USGS scientist in front of a computer inside of a laboratory.
USGS scientists use state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and technologies to test for traces of emerging contaminants in water, sediment, and animal tissue.

USGS scientist operating a liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) instrument.
USGS scientist operating a liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) instrument used to measure emerging contaminants in water.

USGS scientist siting at a computer examining results of chromatographic analysis.
USGS scientist examining results of chromatographic analysis for emerging contaminants in water. USGS chemists and technicians are developing analytical methods for measuring emerging chemical and microbial contaminants and their associated degradation products in the environment.

An accelerated solvent extractor used to process soil samples.
An accelerated solvent extractor used to process soil samples for the determination of pesticides and pharmaceuticals in soil. USGS scientists have developed or adapted methods to measure emerging contaminants in sediment samples using a variety of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry analytical techniques.

USGS scientists using an automated accelerated solvents extractor to prepare soil samples.
USGS scientists use an automated accelerated solvents extractor to prepare soil samples from a confined animal feeding operation for analysis of antibiotics.

A liquid chromatograph coupled to a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer (LC/MS/MS).
A liquid chromatograph coupled to a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer (LC/MS/MS) that is used for the quantitative analysis of polar organic molecules, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

A scientist operating a liquid chromatograph coupled to a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer.
USGS scientists analyze water samples for pharmaceuticals at environmentally relevant concentrations with an LC/MS/MS instrument capable of detecting ultra-trace concentrations.

The results of a polymerase chain reaction gene detection test. White bands are  individual genes.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of several types of DNA-based methods used to detect genes (white bands in this picture) in bacteria. This method and others are being used to study the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and microbial contaminants.

Hogs in pens inside a hog production facility.
Emerging contaminants can originate from a variety of animal- and human-waste sources such as this hog production facility.

Processing tanks at a wastewater treatment plant.
Emerging contaminants can originate from a variety of animal- and human-waste sources such as this wastewater treatment plant.

Wastewater discharge in Arizona.
Wastewater discharges, such as this one in Arizona, were sampled by USGS scientists as part of a study of the persistence of selected emerging contaminants in streams receiving wastewater effluent.

A line of cows in a confined animal feeding operation, New York.
USGS scientists sampled manures from confined animal feeding operations, such as this one in New York, as part of the Source Characterization Study.

A chicken house in Ohio.
Manures from confined animal feeding operations, such as this chicken house in Ohio, were sampled as part of the Source Characterization Study for Emerging Contaminants Project.

USGS field technicians collecting a sample from a sewer.
USGS field technicians retrieved samples from sewers for analysis of emerging contaminants as part of the Source Characterization Study for Emerging Contaminants Project.

A map of the United States that shows sampling locations.
The USGS conducted a study to determine the persistence of selected emerging contaminants in streams receiving wastewater effluent.

Graph of daily variation in stream flow at the Santa Cruz River at Trico Road, near Maranna, AZ.
The USGS and its partners conducted a study to determine the temporal occurrence and persistence of emerging contaminants in an effluent-dependent stream (Santa Cruz River at Trico Road, near Maranna, AZ). Sampling were collected at different points during the daily fluctuations for the stream.

locations of sampling sites on the Santa Cruz River northwest of Tucson, AZ.
The USGS and its partners conducted a study to determine the diel variability of emerging contaminants in an effluent-dependent stream.

Scientists in protective gear collecting samples from a septic system.
Waste samples being collected from an onsite wastewater system for analysis of emerging contaminants. A strict protocol was followed to prevent contamination of the samples (Photo courtesy of the Colorado School of Mines).

Map and areal photograph of the Norman Municipal Landfill, OK.
Scientists from the USGS collected groundwater samples for analysis of emerging contaminants upgradient and downgradient of the Norman Municipal Landfill, OK.

USGS scientist collecting waste samples from a swine manure holding pond in Iowa.
Waste samples being collected from a swine manure holding pond in Iowa for a study of veterinary antibiotics in the environment.

Scientist filling a row of sample bottles.
Filling sample bottles with liquid collected from a municipal holding pond in Colorado as part of the Source Characterization Study for Emerging Contaminants Project. The multiple sample bottles are required for the analysis of different classes of emerging contaminant compounds.

A stainless steel beaker with a wastewater sample and meters with probes inserted in it.
Measuring field parameters (pH, temperature, specific conductance) of a sample of liquid waste collected from a municipal holding pond in Colorado. The sample was collected for the Emerging Contaminants Source Characterization Study.

USGS scientist using a long sampling device to collect a sample of liquid.
USGS scientist using a long sampling device to collect a sample of liquid from a municipal holding pond in Colorado as part of the Emerging Contaminants Source Characterization Study.

USGS scientist collecting a manure sample for the analysis of antibiotics from a farm in Iowa.
USGS scientist collecting a manure sample for the analysis of antibiotics from a farm in Iowa as part of the Emerging Contaminants Source Characterization Study.

Long concrete fish tanks at a typical fish hatchery.
Typical fish hatchery sampled for emerging contaminants to determine the occurrence of antibiotics in water from fish hatcheries.

A fish tank used to expose fish to wastewater effluent in a controlled laboratory experiment.
A fish tank used to expose fish to wastewater effluent in a controlled laboratory experiment for the Emerging Contaminants Investigation. Relatively little is known about the possibility of endocrine disrupting effects on fish when exposed to chronic low-level doses of organic wastewater compounds found in effluent-dominated streams.

A slide illustrating the hydraulics of the two streams-Boulder Creek, CO, and Fourmile Creek, IA.
The hydraulics of the two stream reaches, Boulder Creek, CO, and Fourmile Creek, IA, being investigated to determine the hydrologic and geochemical processes that govern the distribution and transport of emerging contaminants in streams.

USGS scientist adding Rhodamine WT dye to Fourmile Creek, IA.
Adding Rhodamine WT dye to Fourmile Creek, IA, during a dye-tracing test to determine travel times used to understand the distribution and transport of emerging contaminants in streams.

A Petri dish with bacterial growths and thee antibiotic doseing areas.
Bacteria are tested for resistance to antimicrobials using standard assays. Here the bacteria are resistant to one of three antibiotics.

A hole left after a soil sample was removed. In the background is a sample bag with soil sample.
Collecting soil samples for laboratory experiments on the transport of emerging contaminants through soil.

Laboratory equipment used for soil-column experiments.
Laboratory equipment used for soil-column experiments on the transport of emerging contaminants through soil.

View of the base of a soil column used to study the transport of emerging contaminants through soil.
View of the base of a soil column used to study the transport of emerging contaminants through soil. Effluent that traveled through the soil column was collected at the base of the column. The sensor inserted into the column on the right side monitored the temperature of the effluent.

USGS scientists pouring a water sample into a cone splitter.
USGS scientists splitting a large-volume water sample from a soil-column study on the transport of emerging contaminants through soil into smaller samples for later analysis.

Pressurized filtration unit with several sample bottles.
Pressurized filtration unit used to filter liquid waste samples from the Source Characterization Study for Emerging Contaminants Project. Filtered samples were analyzed for a suite of human pharmaceuticals and household and industrial compounds.

  

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Page Last Modified: Friday, 10-Jan-2014 11:10:49 EST