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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

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.

Project Bibliography
381 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).

Newly Published

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

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