Emerging Contaminants In the Environment
"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 been 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
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.
- Analytical Methods Development
- Environmental Occurrence
- Sources and Source Pathways
- Transport and Fate
- Ecological Effects
USGS scientists analyze water samples for pharmaceuticals at environmentally relevant concentrations with an LC/MS/MS instrument capable of detecting ultra-trace concentrations.
Emerging Contaminant Headlines
- Optimizing fish sampling for fish-mercury bioaccumulation factors: Scudder Eikenberry, B.C., Riva-Murray, K., Knightes, C.D., Journey, C.A., Chasar, L.C., Brigham, M.E., and Bradley, P.M., Chemosphere, doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2014.12.068 (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).
- Integrated assessment of wastewater treatment plant effluent estrogenicity in the upper Murray River, Australia, using the native Murray rainbowfish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis): Vajda, A.M., Kumar, A., Woods, M., Williams, M., Doan, H., Tolsher, P., Kookana, R.S., and Barber, L.B., 2015, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 34, no. 5, p. 1078-1087, doi:10.1002/etc.2895.
- Genes indicative of zoonotic and swine pathogens are persistent in stream water and sediment following a swine manure spill: Haack, S.K., Duris, J.W., Kolpin, D.W., Fogarty, L.R., Johnson, H.E., Gibson, K.E., Focazio, M., Schwab, K.J., Hubbard, L.E., and Foreman, W.T., 2015, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 81, no. 10, p. 3430-3441, doi:10.1128/aem.04195-14.
- Concentrations of hormones, pharmaceuticals and other micropollutants in groundwater affected by septic systems in New England and New York: Phillips, P.J., Schubert, C., Argue, D., Fisher, I., Furlong, E.T., Foreman, W., Gray, J., and Chalmers, A., 2015, Science of the Total Environment, v. 512-513, p. 43-54, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.12.067.
- Endocrine disrupting alkylphenolic chemicals and other contaminants in wastewater treatment plant effluents, urban streams, and fish in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi River regions: Barber, L.B., Loyo-Rosales, J.E., Rice, C.P., Minarik, T.A., and Oskouie, A.K., 2015, Science of the Total Environment, v. 517, p. 195-206, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.02.035.
Select Information on Emerging Contaminant Research Outside the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
- Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) as Environmental Pollutants, National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Pharmaceuticals in the Environment, Information for Assessing Risk (PEIAR) Project, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Materials of Emerging Regulatory Interest Team (MERIT), Emerging Contaminants Directorate, Department of Defense (The official DoD source for emerging contaminants information)
- EU-Project Poseidon, Assessment of Technologies for the Removal of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Sewage and Drinking Water Facilities to Improve the Indirect Potable Water Reuse, European Union