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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: Why is the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program unique?

A: The U.S. Geological Survey's Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program is unique among science programs because of (1) its long-term field-based approach to research, (2) its interdisciplinary research teams, (3) its ability to collect data across the Nation using consistent and reliable methods, (4) its ability to address contamination problems with a wide range of geographic scales and geologic terrain, and (5) its ability to bring fundamental knowledge of earth resources to define the natural environmental response to contamination.

The National Research Council in a review of the Toxics and other USGS programs had the following comments on the Toxics Program's unique niche among science programs.

     "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. . . .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.

     "Hazardous material and toxic waste research in the United States is conducted by a variety of organizations including universities, federal and state government agencies, and large and small corporations. Historically, the type of research each has conducted has been framed by a variety of factors, such as the mission of the organizations, history, and circumstance. Federal agencies with missions related to regulating hazardous materials (e.g. EPA) or with extensive remediation problems at agency sites (e.g. DOD, DOE) have a perspective toward research strongly oriented toward short-term results. The USGS is one of the few federal agencies with a more long-term view, having a broad program in field-oriented, multidisciplinary research in hazardous materials science as related to problems in the natural environment. The USGS is known throughout the world for its experience in monitoring the natural environment and for the collection of high-quality, consistent data sets. The USGS is particularly well versed in taking an integrated approach to the study of systems …
     "Universities, by virtue of the discontinuous funding they receive for research and the relatively more limited infrastructure, typically restrict their research to aspects of process discovery. Much of the work involves computer simulation or laboratory experimentation. Field-related hazardous material remediation studies, when they are undertaken, often require strong support from organizations like the USGS, ARS, or the DOE that have ongoing field operations. …
     … The USGS is one of a very few organizations among all of the groups (universities, other federal agencies, and states) that has the ability to conduct long-term research in field settings."
National Research Council, 1996, Hazardous Materials in the Hydrologic Environment: The Role of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Academy Press, p. 17-18

More information is available about the program, its mission and approach.

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