Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment

Household products related to emerging contaminants "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 Household products related to emerging contaminantsbeen 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" or "contaminants of emerging concern" 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 Contaminants of Emerging Concern in the Environment Investigation 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.


USGS scientist collecting water-quality samples from the Enoree River, SC

Study Highlights the Complexity of Chemical Mixtures in United States Streams

A new study highlights the complexity of chemical mixtures in streams and advances the understanding of wildlife and human exposure to complex chemical mixtures. ...

A water tank

Understanding Chemical and Microbial Contaminants in Public Drinking Water

Collaborative joint agency study provides nationally consistent and rigorously quality-assured datasets on a wide range of chemical and microbial contaminants present in source and treated public drinking water supplies. Tap water was not analyzed in this study. ...

Dr. Keith A. Loftin in a laboratory

USGS Scientist Receives Award for Assistance with National Wetlands Assessment

USGS scientist Dr. Keith A. Loftin received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water's Achievement in Science and Technology Award for his contributions to the National Wetlands Condition Assessment. ...

More Science Features

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.


Library bookshelf


Access to publications from this investigation.

New Publications

Upcoming Publications

  • Satellite monitoring of cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom frequency in recreational waters and drinking water sources: Clark, J.M., Schaeffer, B.A., Darling, J.A., Urquhart, E.A., Johnston, J.M., Ignatius, A., Myer, M.H., Loftin, K.A., Werdell, P.J., and Stumpf, R.P., Ecological Indicators, doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.04.046 (IN PRESS).
  • A critical review of the postulated role of the non-essential amino acid, β-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) in neurodegenerative disease in humans: Chernoff, N., Hill, D.J., Diggs, D.L., Faison, B.D., Francis, B.M., Lang, J.R., Larue, M.M., Le, T.-T., Loftin, K.A., Lugo, J.N., Schmid, J.E., and Winnik, W.M., Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health Part B (Critical Reviews) (IN PRESS).
  • Occurrence and in vitro bioactivity of estrogen, androgen, and glucocorticoid compounds in a nationwide screen of United States stream waters: Conley, J.M., Evans, N., Cardon, M.C., Rosenblum, L., Iwanowicz, L.R., Hartig, P.C., Schenck, K.M., Bradley, P.M., and Wilson, V.S., Environmental Science and Technology, doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b06515 (Advanced Web release) (IN PRESS).
  • USGS scientist receives award for assistance with national wetlands assessment: Morganwalp, D.W., and Lee, K.E., 2017, U.S. Geological Survey, access date 03/06/2017, 2017 (IN PRESS).

Newly Published


USGS scientist measuring dissolved oxygen

Project Photo Gallery

A collection of photos illustrating project field and laboratory activities.

More Information

USGS scientist taking measurements of field parameters in a stream

Get More Information on This Investigation

Get more information on the project's investigations.



USGS Home Water Climate Change Science Systems Ecosystems Energy and Minerals Environmental Health Hazards

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

USA.gov logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page URL: http://toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/cec/index.php
Page Content Contact Information: webmaster@toxics.usgs.gov
Page Last Modified: March 23 2017