Contaminants of Emerging Concern 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 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.
- Analytical Methods Development
- Environmental Occurrence
- Sources and Source Pathways
- Transport and Fate
- Ecological Effects
Emerging Contaminant Related Science Features
- U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Recognized as Highly Cited Researcher
- U.S. Geological Survey Scientists Complete First Systematic Regional Survey of Algal Toxins in Streams of the Southeastern United States
- Remote Sensing Provides a National View of Cyanobacteria Blooms
- Complex Mixtures, Complex Responses--Using Comprehensive Approaches to Assess Pharmaceutical Effects on Fish
- Landfill Leachate Released to Wastewater Treatment Plants and other Environmental Pathways Contains a Mixture of Contaminants including Pharmaceuticals
- Potential Exposure to Bacteria and Viruses Weeks after Swine Manure Spill
- First National-Scale Reconnaissance of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in United States Streams
- Long-Term Study Finds Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Urban Waterways
- Personal Care Products, Pharmaceuticals, and Hormones Move from Septic Systems to Local Groundwater
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Persist Downstream from the Source
- Chemicals Found in Treated Wastewater are Transported from Streams to Groundwater
- Pharmaceuticals and Other Chemicals Common in Landfill Waste
- Neonicotinoid Insecticides Documented in Midwestern U.S. Streams
- Neuroactive Pharmaceuticals in Minnesota Rivers
- Toxins Produced by Molds Measured in U.S. Streams
- Chemicals from Land-Applied Biosolids Persist in Soil
- Biological Activity of Steroid Hormones in U.S. Streams
- Contaminants Affect Fish and Wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay
- Chemical Combo and Intersex Fish Found at Smallmouth Bass Nesting Sites
- Complex Mixture of Contaminants Persists in Streams Miles from the Source
- Hormones in Land-Applied Biosolids Could Affect Aquatic Organisms
- Antibiotics in Groundwater Change Bacterial Ecology
- New Knowledge on the Fate and Transport of Emerging Contaminants in Rivers
- Pyrethroid Insecticide Contamination of Streams Increases with Urbanization
- Improvements in Wastewater Treatment Reduces Endocrine Disruption in Fish
- Antibiotics in Groundwater Affect Natural Bacteria
- Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the Slick Scum that Covers Stones in Streams
- Evidence of Endocrine Disruption Unexpectedly Found in Minnesota Lakes
- Estrogenic Contaminants from Plants and Fungi Found in Iowa Streams
- Do Combined Sewer Overflows Increase or Decrease Wastewater-Related Chemicals in Receiving Waters?
- Are Fecal Indicator Bacteria Effective Indicators of Chemical and Pathogenic Contaminants Associated with Human and Animal Waste?
- Hormones Degrade in the Environment!
- Algal Blooms Consistently Produce Complex Mixtures of Cyanotoxins and Co-Occur with Taste-and-Odor Causing Compounds in 23 Midwestern Lakes
- Antidepressants in Stream Waters! Are They in the Fish Too?
- Manufacturing Facilities Release Pharmaceuticals to the Environment
- Tackling Fish Endocrine Disruption
- Measuring Antidepressants, Fungicides, and Insecticides in the Environment
- Detergents in Streams May Just Disappear
- Emerging Contaminants Targeted in a Reconnaissance of Ground Water and Untreated Drinking-Water Sources
- Biosolids, Animal Manure, and Earthworms: Is There a Connection?
- Wastewater Indicators Shown to Degrade in Streams
- Endocrine Disruption Found in Fish Exposed to Municipal Wastewater
- Household Chemicals and Drugs Found in Biosolids from Wastewater Treatment Plants
- Pharmaceuticals Found in Soil Irrigated with Reclaimed Water
- Are Pharmaceuticals in Your Watershed? Understanding the Fate of Pharmaceuticals and Other Contaminants in Watersheds
- Book Chapter on Exposure Modeling and Monitoring of Human Pharmaceuticals in the Environment
- Does NDMA Biodegrade at Ground-Water Recharge Facilities?
- Glyphosate Found in Wastewater Discharged to Streams
- Tracing Wastewater - Using Unique Compounds to Identify Sources of Contamination
- USGS Scientists Contribute to New Book on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment
- USGS Scientists Develop New Method to Measure Pharmaceuticals in Water
- Developing Methods to Measure New Contaminants in Aquatic Environments
- Veterinary Medicines in the Environment
- Glyphosate Herbicide Found in Many Midwestern Streams, Antibiotics Not Common
- National Reconnaissance of Pharmaceuticals, Hormones and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams is Making an Impact
- "National Reconnaissance of Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in Streams" Named as One of the Top 100 Science Stories of the Year
- What's in Our Wastewaters and Where Does it Go?
- 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).
- Dairy-impacted wastewater is a source of iodinated disinfection byproducts in the environment: Hladik, M.L., Hubbard, L.E., Kolpin, D.W., and Focazio, M.J., 2016, Environmental Science and Technology Letters, doi:10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00109 (Advanced Web release).
- Spatial and temporal variation in microcystins occurrence in wadeable streams in the southeastern USA: Loftin, K.A., Clark, J.M., Journey, C.A., Kolpin, D.W., Van Metre, P.C., and Bradley, P.M., 2016, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 35, doi:10.1002/etc.3391 (Advanced Web release).
- Complex mixtures, complex responses--Assessing pharmaceutical mixtures using field and laboratory approaches: Schoenfuss, H.L., Furlong, E.T., Phillips, P.J., Scott, T.-M., Kolpin, D.W., Cetkovic-Cvrlje, M., Lesteberg, K.E., and Rearick, D.C., 2015, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, doi:10.1002/etc.3147 (Advanced Web release).
- Landfill leachate as a mirror of today's disposable society--Pharmaceuticals and other contaminants of emerging concern in final leachate from landfills in the conterminous United States: Masoner, J.R., Kolpin, D.W., Furlong, E.T., Cozzarelli, I.M., and Gray, J.L., 2015, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, doi:10.1002/etc.3219 (Advanced Web release).
- Potential estrogenic effects of wastewaters on gene expression in Pimephales promelas and fish assemblages in streams of southeastern New York: Baldigo, B.P., George, S.D., Phillips, P.J., Hemming, J.D.C., Denslow, N.D., and Kroll, K.J., 2015, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, doi:10.1002/etc.3120 (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.
- 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.
- Predicting characteristics of rainfall driven estrogen runoff and transport from swine AFO spray fields: Lee, B., Kullman, S.W., Yost, E.E., Meyer, M.T., Worley-Davis, L., Williams, C.M., and Reckhow, K.H., 2015, Science of the Total Environment, v. 532, p. 571-580, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.051.
- Suburbanization, estrogen contamination, and sex ratio in wild amphibian populations: Lambert, M.R., Giller, G.S.J., Barber, L.B., Fitzgerald, K.C., and Skelly, D.K., 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 112, no. 38, p. 11881-11886, doi:10.1073/pnas.1501065112.
- Impact of wastewater infrastructure upgrades on the urban water cycle--Reduction in halogenated reaction byproducts following conversion from chlorine gas to ultraviolet light disinfection: Barber, L.B., Hladik, M.L., Vajda, A.M., Fitzgerald, K.C., and Douville, C., 2015, Science of the Total Environment, v. 529, p. 264-274, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.112.
- 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.
- 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.
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