Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment

Fathead minnow in a laboratory aquarium
Adult fathead minnows, such as this one, were exposed to treated wastewater effluent that contained pharmaceuticals to help scientists understand the effects of pharmaceuticals on fish in streams. Photo Credit: Megan Cox, St. Cloud State University.

Some chemicals that we use in our everyday lives including medicines (such as prescription and non-prescription drugs), personal hygiene products (for example, soaps, disinfectants, …) and their chemical additives (such as preservatives) are present in the environment and associated with various sources such as municipal wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural and urban land surfaces, and septic systems. These contaminants are referred to collectively as “contaminants of emerging concern” and represent a shift in traditional thinking as many are produced industrially yet are dispersed to the environment from domestic uses.

This investigation identifies and quantifies the environmental sources, presence, and magnitude of environmental contaminants with the underlying theme of understanding the contaminants from their source to a “receptor organism.” The goal of the investigation is to understand the actual versus the perceived health risks to humans or wildlife due to low-level exposures from understudied chemical contaminants in the environment.

News

Scientists collecting samples of runoff from a test plot during a simulated rainfall event

Commonly Used Chemicals Transported to Agricultural Field through Municipal Biosolids Application

Commonly used chemicals (including fragrances, detergents, fire retardants, plasticizers, and antibacterials) transferred to wastewater treatment plants were detected in municipal wastewater biosolids applied to agricultural field plots and subsequently detected in the runoff transported from the plots during precipitation events. ...

Municipal biosolids being loaded onto spreader for land application

Multi-State Survey Measures Parabens in Municipal Wastewater Biosolids

Study provides new information about the composition and concentrations of 5 parabens—preservatives in pharmaceuticals and personal care products—present in biosolids collected from 14 municipal wastewater treatment plants across the United States. ...

Map of the frequency of cyanoHAB occurrence above the WHO high threshold - Florida 2008 through 2011

Satellite Imagery Used to Measure Harmful Algal Bloom Frequency—Steps Toward Understanding Exposure Risk

Study explores the utility and limitations of currently available remotely sensed satellite data for identifying the frequency of harmful algal blooms in the Nation's lakes and reservoirs. This information provides a first step toward the goal of understanding exposure risk to protect the health of humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. ...

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USGS sceintists sampling groundwater
USGS Hydrologists Tristen Tagliaferri and Irene Fisher sampling shallow groundwater downgradient of septic systems in Kismet, New York (Fire Island), December 2011. Photo Credit: Chris Schubert, USGS.

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USGS scientist measuring dissolved oxygen

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USGS scientist taking measurements of field parameters in a stream

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