USGS - science for a changing world

Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


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" 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 Emerging Contaminants Project 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 emerging contaminants 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

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.

Project Bibliography
379 Publications
Project Photo Gallery

Emerging Contaminant Related Science Features

New Publications

Upcoming Publications

  • Challenges for mapping cyanotoxin patterns from remote sensing of cyanobacteria: Stumpf, R.P., Davis, T.W., Wynne, T.T., Graham, J.L., Loftin, K.A., Johengen, T.H., Gossiaux, D., Palladino, D., and Burtner, A., Harmful Algae (IN PRESS).
  • EPA, NASA, NOAA, and USGS collaborate to develop a Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN): Schaeffer, B.A., Loftin, K.A., Stumpf, R.P., and Werdell, P.J., EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (IN PRESS).
  • Total cylindrospermopsins, microcystins/nodularins, and saxitoxins data for the 2007 United States Environmental Protection Agency National Lake Assessment: Loftin, K.A., Dietze, J.E., Meyer, M.T., Graham, J.L., Ziegler, A.C., Maksimowicz, M.M., and Toyne, K.D., U.S. Geological Survey Data Series (IN PRESS).

Newly Published

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

More Information

[Acrobat Reader]

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: Monday, 25-Apr-2016 15:47:59 EDT