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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Frequently Asked Questions

The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program supports U.S. Geological Survey environmental health science activities by providing information and tools to address occurrence, behavior, and effects of environmental contaminants, including impacts to susceptible environments and implications for human, wildlife and fish and domesticated animal health.

Q: What is the role of the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program?

A: The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program provides objective scientific information on the behavior of toxic substances in the Nation's hydrologic environments. The information is used to improve characterization and management of contaminated sites, to protect human and environmental health, and to reduce potential future contamination problems. More information is available about the program, its mission and approach.

In addition, the program is guided by reviews conducted by the National Research Council. The following excerpts from those review reports provide additional information on the program's role:

"Hazardous materials in the hydrologic environment are a problem of substantial national significance… The role of the USGS in this arena is to expand scientific knowledge relevant to the behavior of hazardous materials. The generation and storage of toxic chemical and radioactive wastes will be of increasing concern over the next two decades, particularly as aging stockpiles begin to deteriorate. Modeling and monitoring the surface and subsurface movement of wastes at existing sites will be of particular importance. This modeling is vital when contamination poses threats to human health…" National Research Council, 2001, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy Press, p. 45.

"The USGS supplies scientific information and advice about current environmental issues. This information is used by federal, state, and local agencies in carrying out their regulatory and administrative functions. The USGS is also expected to anticipate emerging environmental issues. …Historically, much environmental research has been directed at solving immediate problems. However, this problem-specific approach is limited; it misses the opportunity to use research to create scientific and technological building blocks or core research, which can enhance our future ability to address a wide range of environmental problems. … Undoubtedly, the USGS will be asked to address overarching environmental problems in the future. Solutions of these social problems require a broad research program that is capable of developing complex system models and using advanced technology." National Research Council, 2001, Future Roles and Opportunities for the U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy Press, p. 49-51.

"In the United States, a massive effort is in progress to remediate sites at which hazardous materials threaten the environment. The science and technology programs of the WRD [Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey], with a heritage of over 100 years, contribute significantly to the national remediation effort by continually imparting new and credible understanding about soil and water contamination. Š This report reinforces the widely-held viewpoint that addressing the nation's hazardous materials problems is a large and challenging undertaking involving many entities in a cooperative fashion. Among these entities, the USGS has important roles to play." National Research Council, 1996, Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy Press, p.1.

"The characterization of processes relevant to the transport and fate of hazardous materials in soils and waters is a significant strength of the USGS. Long-term, field-based studies, for example, have been one of the agency's greatest strengths. This type of research should continue and be expanded to integrate methods to evaluate the effectiveness of remediation efforts. Such an approach will require continued dedication to research together with the development and implementation of new modeling capabilities and decision-support tools. The USGS should lead the effort to perform the long-term assessments that are essential to both technology refinement and informed policy decisions." National Research Council, 1996, Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy Press, p. 2.

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Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 06-May-2014 14:37:03 EDT