Emerging Contaminants In the Environment
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.
"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
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
Meetings and Conferences
- Land use patterns, ecoregion, and microcystin relationships in U.S. lakes and reservoirs--A preliminary evaluation: Beaver, J.R., Manis, E.E., Loftin, K.A., Graham, J.L., Pollard, A.I., and Mitchell, R.M., 2014, Harmful Algae, v. 36, p. 57-62, doi:10.1016/j.hal.2014.03.005.
- Persistent organic contaminants in Saharan dust air masses in West africa, Cape Verde and the eastern Caribbean: Garrison, V.H., Majewski, M.S., Foreman, W.T., Genualdi, S.A., Mohammed, A., and Massey Simonich, S.L., 2014, Science of the Total Environment, v. 468–469, p. 530-543, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.08.076.
- Experimental additions of aluminum sulfate and ammonium nitrate to in situ mesocosms to reduce cyanobacterial biovolume and microcystin concentration: Harris, T.D., Wilhelm, F.M., Graham, J.L., and Loftin, K.A., 2014, Lake and Reservoir Management, v. 30, no. 1, p. 84-93, doi:10.1080/10402381.2013.876132.
- Presence of the Corexit component dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate in Gulf of Mexico waters after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Gray, J.L., Kanagy, L.K., Furlong, E.T., Kanagy, C.J., McCoy, J.W., Mason, A., and Lauenstein, G., 2014, Chemosphere, v. 95, p. 124-130, doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2013.08.049.
- Assessment of endocrine-disrupting chemicals attenuation in a coastal Plain stream prior to wastewater treatment plant closure: Bradley, P.M., and Journey, C.A., 2014, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 388-400, doi:10.1111/jawr.12165.
- Experimental manipulation of TN--TP ratios suppress cyanobacterial biovolume and microcystin concentration in large-scale in situ mesocosms: Harris, T.D., Wilhelm, F.M., Graham, J.L., and Loftin, K.A., 2014, Lake and Reservoir Management, v. 30, no. 1, p. 72-83, doi:10.1080/10402381.2013.876131.
- Sampling trace organic compounds in water--A comparison of a continuous active sampler to continuous passive and discrete sampling methods: Coes, A.L., Paretti, N.V., Foreman, W.T., Iverson, J.L., and Alvarez, D.A., 2014, Science of the Total Environment, v. 473–474, p. 731-741, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.12.082.
- Transgenic zebrafish reveal tissue-specific differences in estrogen signaling in response to environmental water samples: Gorelick, D.A., Iwanowicz, L.R., Hung, A.L., Blazer, V.S., and Halpern, M.E., 2014, Environmental Health Perspectives, v. 122, no. 4, p. 356-362, doi:10.1289/ehp.1307329.
- Identifying non-point sources of endocrine active compounds and their biological impacts in freshwater lakes: Baker, B.H., Martinovic-Weigelt, D., Ferrey, M., Barber, L.B., Writer, J.H., Rosenberry, D.O., Kiesling, R.L., Lundy, J.R., and Schoenfuss, H.L., 2014, Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, p. 1-15, doi:10.1007/s00244-014-0052-4.
- Transcriptomic effects-based monitoring for endocrine active chemicals--Assessing relative contribution of treated wastewater to downstream pollution: Martinović-Weigelt, D., Mehinto, A.C., Ankley, G.T., Denslow, N.D., Barber, L.B., Lee, K.E., King, R.J., Schoenfuss, H.L., Schroeder, A.L., and Villeneuve, D.L., 2014, Environmental Science and Technology, v. 48, no. 4, p. 2385-2394, doi:10.1021/es404027n.
- Effect of light on biodegradation of estrone, 17β-estradiol, and 17α-ethinylestradiol in stream sediment: Bradley, P.M., and Writer, J.H., 2014, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 334-342, doi:10.1111/jawr.12157.
- Reconnaissance of pharmaceuticals and wastewater indicators in streambed sediments of the lower Columbia River Basin, Oregon and Washington: Nilsen, E., Furlong, E.T., and Rosenbauer, R., 2014, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 291-301, doi:10.1111/jawr.12161.
- The Mussel Watch California pilot study on contaminants of emerging concern (CECs)--Synthesis and next steps: Maruya, K.A., Dodder, N.G., Weisberg, S.B., Gregorio, D., Bishop, J.S., Klosterhaus, S., Alvarez, D.A., Furlong, E.T., Bricker, S., Kimbrough, K.L., and Lauenstein, G.G., 2014, Marine Pollution Bulletin, v. 81, no. 2, p. Pages 355-363, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.04.023.
- Spatial and temporal patterns of endocrine active chemicals in small streams indicate differential exposure to aquatic organisms: Lee, K.E., Barber, L.B., and Schoenfuss, H.L., 2014, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 401-419, doi:10.1111/jawr.12162.
- Refocusing mussel watch on contaminants of emerging concern (cecs)--The California pilot study (2009-10): Maruya, K.A., Dodder, N.G., Schaffner, R.A., Weisberg, S.B., Gregorio, D., Klosterhaus, S., Alvarez, D.A., Furlong, E.T., Kimbrough, K.L., Lauenstein, G.G., and Christensen, J.D., 2014, Marine Pollution Bulletin, v. 81, no. 2, p. 334-339, doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.04.027.
- Dissipation of contaminants of emerging concern in biosolids applied to nonirrigated farmland in eastern Colorado: Yager, T.J.B., Furlong, E.T., Kolpin, D.W., Kinney, C.A., Zaugg, S.D., and Burkhardt, M.R., 2014, JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 343-357, doi:10.1111/jawr.12163.
- Featured collection introduction--Contaminants of emerging concern II: Battaglin, W.A., and Kolok, A., 2014, JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 50, no. 2, p. 261-265, doi:10.1111/jawr.12176.
Select Information on Emerging Contaminant Research Outside the Toxic Substances Hydrology
- 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)
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