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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting Charleston South Carolina March 8-12, 1999--Volume 2 of 3--Contamination of Hydrologic Systems and Related Ecosystems, Water-Resources Investigation Report 99-4018B

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Emerging Contaminant Issues from an Ecological Perspective

By Samuel N. Luoma

This paper is available in pdf format: pdfkeynote.pdf


An ultimate goal of toxic substance hydrology is to understand the ecological, biological and human health implications of the toxic substances released by human activities. It is known that contaminants can be toxic, but it can be difficult to unambiguously identify their effects in specific circumstances. Thus controversy and contentious debate can occur when contaminants are suspected of causing ecological damage. Our knowledge of how contaminants exert their effects on ecosystems has advanced in important ways in recent years, and will change even more rapidly in the years ahead. These changes have the potential to reduce some of the ambiguities in evaluations of the implications of contamination. The new knowledge could create a demand for changes in the basic approaches for contaminant management and changes in the tools employed in those approaches. Changing approaches and tools will be a challenge for existing institutions, including regulatory agencies and the USGS. This paper attempts to summarize some of the broad "emerging contaminant issues" that could result in improved management approaches. These issues are relevant to both the newly discovered potential agents for ecological damage (Thurman, 1999) and some of the traditional contaminants.

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