USGS - science for a changing world

Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who uses the information the Toxics Program produces?

Toxic Substances Hydrology Program Partners, Collaborators, and Beneficiaries

A: The information produced by the Toxics Program is used by regulators, resource managers, industry, educators and students, the scientific community at large, and the public. Excerpts from selected correspondence acknowledging past, current, and future use of program results follow:

"This hefty two volume set should be required reading for anyone involved in investigating the environmental effects of historical mining on a watershed. It presents applications of innovative investigative concepts, methods and appraisals of ecological risk from acid rock/mine drainage in a watershed area of about 146 miles2 (374 km2) hosting over 5300 inactive historical mine, mill and prospect sites. All performed essentially without wells. In 29 well written sections these two volumes present and document techniques that work, those that were less effective, and reasons for the difference. In many instances this work provides a base from which further well-defined investigations and graduate school research can be launched."

A quote from the following book review of USGS Professional Paper 1651.

Glanzman, R.K., 2008, Integrated investigations of environmental effects of historical mining in the Animas River Watershed, San Juan County, Colorado. Church, S.E., von Guerard, P., Finger, S.E. (Eds.), U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1651, 2007: 1 096 pp plus CD-ROM. [In two volumes]: Applied Geochemistry, v. 23, no. 8, p. 2512-2513, doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2008.03.006.

"Many thanks again for sending the excellent technical papers that provided recent USGS sampling results on pharmaceuticals and personal care products in rivers and streams. ...

this data has been used to support several programs and new proposals. The data was presented at an Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies seminar here in Portland to provide strong justification for the need to build a 'Drug Take-Back Program'. ... Your data provided the audience and expert panel members with proof that we have similar water quality issues here in Oregon as there are in other waterways in the United States....

The USGS data has shown that standard wastewater treatment may not be fully effective at removing the contaminants, so this information is important to consider within our existing permitting and technical assistance programs for NPDES, WPCF, Onsite (large and individual septic systems), and Wastewater Reuse and Biosolids. ... Your data has directly contributed toward Oregon DEQ's new proposal for additional 'toxics monitoring' for State Legislative review and potential approval in early 2007. Our agency will be partnering in that effort with USGS to collect more critical data to supplement our Laboratory's capabilities. ...

In partnership with our sister state agency that regulates drinking water, the Oregon Department of Human Services, we will be using the USGS data to carefully assess where our highest human health risks may be with regard to pharmaceuticals and pesticides. We will use this research to help determine our higher program priorities for additional monitoring, more detailed assessments, and direct technical assistance to the communities, treatment plant operators, and public water system officials."

Sheree Stewart, Drinking Water Protection Coordinator, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (written communication, 2007)

"I wish to express my gratitude for providing the ADRS long-term temperature data for use in my research. The data have contributed to enhanced knowledge of obsidian hydration in desert environments."

Alexander (Sandy) Rogers, Curator of Archaeology and Staff Archaeologist, Maturango Museum, Ridgecrest, Calif. (written communication, 2007)

"I became the new director of the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee in August - and I've had a chance to read the draft copy of your study - 'Evaluation of Metal Loadings to Streams near Creede, Colorado' for 2000. Several members of our committee agree that your study is our best evaluation of metal loads in Willow Creek as your tracer method accounts for alluvium water."

Kelley Thompson, Willow Creek Reclamation Committee, Creede, Colo. (written communication, 2006)

The quote is referring to:

Kimball, B.A., Runkel, R.L., Walton-Day, K., and Stover, B.K., 2006, Evaluation of metal loading to streams near Creede, Colorado, August and September 2000: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5143, 64 p.

"I just read the article, 'Plant-Based Plume-Scale Mapping of Tritium Contamination in Desert Soils,' and wanted to express my appreciation. This is the first time anyone has mapped subsurface vapor-phase tritium migration using plants, but I doubt it will be the last. The technique that your team worked out, and the quality of the verification that was conducted, virtually ensure that this method will be used again and again. Providing a new technique that saves both time and money without sacrificing data quality is a real contribution, and one which may improve characterization of many environmental sites."

Steve Rock, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (written communication, 2005)

"I've been re-reading your 2001 paper on 'Conceptual models of coastal eutrophication', and believe it is one of the best coastal ocean science papers I've ever read. I'm using it in my class on ocean margins this semester."

James A. Yoder, Professor, Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island [Now with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts] (written communication, 2005)/P>

The quote is referring to:

Cloern, J.E., 2001, Our evolving conceptual model of the coastal eutrophication problem: Marine Ecology Progress Series, v. 210, p. 223-253.

"Your work has already had significant influence on how we interpret our data on water quality in estuaries, eg we presently use your empirical equation (Cole and Cloern, 1987, MEPS 36, 299-305) to estimate pelagic primary productivity."

Dr. Ralf R. Haese, Marine and Coastal Environment Group, Geoscience Australia, Canberra, Australia (written communication, 2005)

The quote is referring to:

Cole, B.E., and Cloern, J.E., 1987, An empirical model for estimating phytoplankton productivity in estuaries: Marine Ecology Progress Series, v. 36, p. 299-305.

"I have found the paleohydrologic investigations of the USGS involving sub-soil nitrates and chlorides in arid regions to be both instructive and relevant to my current research endeavors with perchlorate and oxy-anions."

Gregory Harvey, Environmental Safety and Health Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio (written communication, 2004)

Comments on recent research conducted at the USGS's Amargosa Desert Research Site. See the following two Science Feature Articles for more information.

"As I said during our conversations, we have been following the pioneering work you and your group have been reporting on emerging organic contaminants in ground and surface water. We wish to congratulate you on the work published in the Environmental Science and Technology (Volume 36) 2002 - Kolpin et al. " Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999- 2000: A national reconnaissance ".

This was a most timely publication for our project and helped us in setting research priorities in this emerging area of research."

Dr Rai Kookana, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Land and Water, Australia (written communication, 2003)

"…it is truly a remarkable article. It may prove to be the most cited paper in the history of ES&T. In the first two weeks following publication (Web release date: March 13, 2002), the article had approximately 4000 downloads from the ES&T Website and was reported by media throughout the world. During the three months from July-September, 2002, it still "had legs" with 728 downloads. In addition, it spawned several Comments and Response to Comments in ES&T, all with considerable public interest. This represents the success for which journals, publishers, and scientists all strive."

Jerald L. Schnoor, 2003, Making an Impact: Environmental Science and Technology

Comments on:

Kolpin, D.W., Furlong, E.T., Meyer, M.T., Thurman, E.M., Zaugg, S.D., Barber, L.B., and Buxton, H.T., 2002, Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000--A national reconnaissance: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 36, no. 6, p. 1202-1211.

"Under a contract from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has requested ADRS multiple-year meteorologic and hydrologic data for use in the development of numerical models for calculating water movement through the unsaturated zone at low-level radioactive waste sites. Water-flux meters designed by PNNL have also been installed at the ADRS in a collaborative effort (1) to test, under hyper-arid climate conditions, the performance of meters which are being used to document net water infiltration into waste covers at the Hanford site and (2) to support the ADRS study of vadose-zone transport. The water-flux meter installation and testing effort is supported by U.S. Department of Energy (SUBCON) and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission funding."

Glendon Gee, Senior Staff Scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash. (written communication, 2001)

"I am writing to express my thanks and support for the work you and your colleagues in the U.S. Geological Survey's Toxics Program have been conducting on identifying and measuring antibiotics in ambient water supplies. Our 1999 collaborative research effort, jointly funded by USGS and CHEEC (Center for Heath Effects of Environmental Contamination), is a perfect example of how much-needed development of analytical laboratory methods can be done in a cost-effective and interagency manner. … Trace levels of commonly used antibiotics (both human and livestock) in source water supplies is of great interest to us. The recent Congressional Research Service Report for Congress titled Antimicrobial Resistance: An Emerging Public Health Issue (January 24, 2001) underscores the pressing need for ongoing methods development work by the USGS Toxics Program. The surveillance work performed by your office was critical in attempting to assess the extent of contamination in Iowa's water supplies. … The USGS Toxics Program is conducting research that is on the cutting edge of this emerging issue. We need your continued effort and excellent work in order to stay ahead of the curve on what could be a situation with potentially enormous public health impacts."

Peter Weyer, Ph.D., Associate Director, Center for Heath Effects of Environmental Contamination, The University of Iowa (written communication, 2001)

"Research activities at the Amargosa Desert Research Site are of great inspiration on the aspect of waste disposal in arid environments, of which so little is known. Results of the Amargosa Desert studies will be of great help in our work to identify suitable sites and to develop guidelines for waste disposal in Namibia, a country with a highly variable climatic setting and large areas that receive very limited precipitation, such as the Namib and Kalahari Deserts."

Sindila Mwiya, Engineering and Environment Subdivision, Geological Survey of Namibia (written communication, 2001)

See Waste Disposal and Contaminant Migration in the Arid Southwest for more inforammtion.

"My research projects at the University of Arizona have definitely benefited over the last eight years because of the existence of the Toxics Program and the willingness of its research groups to participate in collaborative and cooperative efforts. They have been very generous in sharing their expertise in field and laboratory studies and data analysis. I have been able to use collaboration with the Toxics program to leverage funding from other Federal agencies and from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. As a consequence, I have been able to provide research projects and financial support for eight graduate students who have successfully completed their degrees (six M. Sc., two Ph. D.) and are currently employed with private environmental consulting firms or State or Federal agencies. Three other graduate students are working towards their degrees on projects of interest to the Toxics Program and will most certainly be involved in cooperative field studies conducted with personnel from the Toxics Program."

Martha Conklin, Associate Professor, University of Arizona (written communication, 2001)

"On the world wide web there is a page regarding a report called 'Benthic flux of metals and nutrients into the water column of Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho' (August 1999, Pilot study). This work is of a great interest to me because at the moment I am studying nutrient flux across the sediment-water interface in a highly productive subarctic lake, Lake Mývatn, in Iceland, using benthic flux chambers. Do you have a reprint of this report that you can send for me to read in the nearest future?"

Ingunn Maria Thorbergsdottir, University of Iceland (written communication, 2001)

For more information on the benthic-flux method see the New Method for Assessing Bed Sediment Contamination Headline

"The past year's collaboration with my colleagues at the USGS at Oklahoma City and Reston have been rewarding and fruitful. I am extremely appreciative of the logistics support that you have provided and the data and samples provided by your USGS colleagues. My talks on our study at the annual GSA meeting and Savannah River Ecology Laboratory were very well received because the comprehensive data provided by the USGS allows us to address important issues never before considered in landfill research. . The interest in this work and in landfills in general is revealed by the inquiries I have received from reporters from entities as varied as the Sludge Letter and KHOU TV in Houston. Clearly this science is important to citizens as well as scientists."

Dr. Ethan Grossman, Professor, Texas A&M University (written communication, 2001)

Research on Norman Landfill was featured in the November, 2000 issue of New Waves, a newsletter published by Texas Water Resources Institute:

"Soil-water measurement technology developed at the Amargosa Desert Research Site is being used to assess the hydrologic performance of an evapotranspiration landfill cover at the US Army Fort Carson military base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The techniques provide a means to assess the performance of unconventional landfill covers that can be constructed at a considerably lower cost than conventional covers."

Patrick McGuire, Senior Soil Scientist, Earth Tech, Sheboygan, Wis., and Donald Moses, Chief, HTW Geotechnical Section, Engineering Division, US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha, Nebr. (written communication, 2001)

"Very nice article in EOS this week! I am taking it to seminar today to push it on all the students. Thank you for helping to put the topic out there in such clear terms for continuing discussion." See Relying on Nature to Clean Up Contaminated Ground Water.

Janet Herman, Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia (written communication, 2001)

"With great interest I read your paper about the biogeochemistry of the landfill leachate plume at the Norman landfill (EST, 2000. 34: 4025-4033). . Currently I am writing 2 papers about redox processes and reactive transport modeling at a landfill site with a nice plume in the Netherlands. . I had a few questions about the Norman site and your research ."

Boris van Breukelen, Ph. D student, Free University Amsterdam (written communication, 2000)

"… We have together, carried out critical experiments elucidating the behavior of uranium as a contaminant in aquifer systems. This particular location has been available and has served as a model aquifer for carrying out experiments demonstrating the ability of indigenous subsurface bacteria to carry out bioremediation of uranium, present as a contaminant. Because of the Proximity of the Norman Landfill site to the University of Oklahoma, the help available from the USGS and the agreement of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we were able to carry out experiments at this site that we could not have done at any other location. These experiments have led to the development of remediation tools for subsurface uranium contamination. The cooperation and support of Scott C. Christenson, hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and his staff have been critical for our research to proceed."

Lee R. Krumholz, Assistant Professor, The University of Oklahoma (written communication, 2001)

See Fate of Landfill Leachate for more information.

"As a follow up to our recent Mercury To Assess Atmospheric Loading in Canada and the Unite States (METAALICUS) project meeting, John Rudd and I wanted to share our appreciation for the key role you and the other USGS investigators play in this extremely important, bi-national project. The USGS resources (technical expertise, field experience and specialized equipment) brought to the project through the Toxics Program are absolutely essential to METAALICUS achieving its basic goal of providing the only known definitive link between atmospheric deposition and bioaccumulation of mercury in fish. This is particularly true for METAALICUS' watershed studies, where you serve in a coordinating role. The pilot-scale studies you have done with your collaborators on METAALICUS have redefined many of our paradigms about the behavior of mercury in terrestrial and wetland settings, and with the coming full-scale application of the isotope to the Lake 658 catchment this spring, we cannot anticipate anything less than world-class results."

Reed Harris, Tetra Tech Inc., and John Rudd, Canada Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Metaalicus Project Coordinators (written communication, 2001)

See Effect of Mercury on Aquatic Ecosystems for more information.

"… ORD (Office of Research and Development) will work cooperatively with USGS, DOE (Department of Energy), and private sector organizations including EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) to address the key scientific questions … ORD will begin development of a coordinated mercury monitoring program, in cooperation with the USGS and other Federal and State agencies, through installation of comprehensive deposition monitoring stations in a highly impacted, highly sensitive geographic regions such as South Florida, the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Arctic. … ORD has worked closely with the USGS in the establishment of a coordinated research program for the investigation of ecological processes in the field and the collection of environmental data for model development and validation, particularly in studies related to the restoration of the South Florida Ecosystem, and has developed long-term professional relationships with many USGS scientists involved in mercury research. … The USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have active research programs to evaluate the mechanisms of methylmercury bioaccumulation in fish and wildlife species. One program correlates mercury concentrations in sediment, water, and fish at 100 sites nationally with water and sediment parameters."

USEPA National Mercury Research Strategy, EPA/600/R-00/073 (2000)

See Effect of Mercury on Aquatic Ecosystems for more information.

"May I please request a copy of the paper cited above. We are working with SUs (Sulfonyl Urea herbicides) specifically in matters of registration of pesticides in the state of Florida and with appropriate methods of sample collection as well as analytical methods for monitoring surface water. We would like to have a copy of your paper to understand the potential for migration of SUs to surface and groundwater."

Jane Foos, Environmental Manager, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (written communication, 2000)

The quote is referring to:

Battaglin, W.A., Furlong, E.T., Burkhardt, M.R., and Peter, C.J., 2000, Occurrence of sulfonylurea, sulfonamide, imidazolinone, and other herbicides in rivers, reservoirs and ground water in the Midwestern United States, 1998: The Science of the Total Environment, v. 248, no. 2-3, p. 123-133, doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(99)00536-7.

"I am writing in support of the fine work that has been and is being performed by the U.S. Geological Survey. as an important component of the South Florida Mercury Science Program (SFMSP). The USGS nation-wide team led by Dr. David Krabbenhoft of the Madison, Wisconsin office has made crucial contributions to defining the causes of the problem of mercury in south Florida and leading us toward solutions.

As the largest freshwater wetland in the continental US, and one identified as being critically endangered by farming, drought, development and drainage in its watershed, the Florida Everglades has the misfortune to exhibit some of the highest concentrations of mercury in its fish and wildlife. As the state agency responsible for controlling water quality problems in Florida, DEP has made unprecedented investments in monitoring, modeling and research studies to define the causes and solutions to this problem. The contributions of the USGS 'Aquatic Cycling of Mercury in the Everglades' (ACME) project team have been of vital importance to our overall program. The ACME team has brought together scientists of international caliber and enabled the SFMSP to develop a deeper understanding of the geochemical controls of the production of methylmercury, and has thereby greatly enhanced our ability to conduct one of the first two Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) mercury assessments ...

As the federal and state funded greater Everglades Comprehensive Environmental Restoration Program begins to take shape, its progress will be greatly enhanced by the USGS' contributions to resolving scientific uncertainties about the interaction of mercury with water supply and quality factors. We look forward to a continuing and fruitful collaboration with the Survey."

Tom Atkeson, Mercury Coordinator for the State of Florida (written communication, 2001)

See Effect of Mercury on Aquatic Ecosystems for more information.

"I liked your EOS article; nice job. This basic research is essential for developing cost effective ways to clean up and perhaps prevent the spread of groundwater pollution. There are many places in our nation where groundwater is threatened but the financial resources needed to attack the problem are limited. Research such as this will help us use our groundwater cleanup dollars more effectively."

David Rogers, Los Alamos National Laboratory Water Quality and Hydrology Group, Los Alamos, N. Mex. (written communication, 2001)

See Relying on Nature to Clean Up Contaminated Ground Water for more information.

"I read with interest your summary in EOS of the state of Natural Attenuation strategies. I am a professional engineer/licensed professional geologist with a background in groundwater flow and contaminant transport modeling, and 20 years of experience in remediation design related to groundwater."

John A. Mundell, Mundell & Associates, Inc., Indianapolis, Ind. (written communication, 2001)

See Relying on Nature to Clean Up Contaminated Ground Water for more information.

"Thank you very much indeed for presenting some of your research at the NSA meetings in Seattle. Our session on the functional role of bivalves was well received by both the scientific and industry attendees at the meeting. Such information on both possible positive and negative effects of shellfish stock enhancement, aquaculture, and introductions of exotic species is going to be increasingly needed with more resource utilization conflicts in coastal waters."

Roger Newell, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (written communication, 2001)

See Varied Human Influences on Estuaries for more information.

"In MA we are very fortunate to have a United States Geological Society (sic) (U.S.G.S.) office that has done extensive study and investigation of a wastewater plume created by years of discharging to a predominantly sand and gravel aquifer. They have had an opportunity to investigate several of the environmental variables to influence phosphorus movement in groundwater. . . . Some of the advantages that the U.S.G.S. had in studying the plume on Cape Cod was that they were able to sufficiently monitor and instrument the aquifer to allow for a relatively clear understanding of the subsurface, the local hydrogeology and groundwater and soils chemistry"

Michael Rapacz, Project Coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (written communication, 2001)

See Sewage-Contaminated Ground Water for more information.

"… USGS has been one of the primary sources of watershed analysis. I thought you would appreciate knowing that the Stakeholder Group acknowledges the very important role USGS has performed in preparing the Use Attainability Analysis. … The multidiscipline scientific investigations USGS is conducting to support abandoned mine lands cleanup activities in the upper Animas River, Colorado have proven extremely valuable in making science-based cleanup decisions. Ongoing interaction between USGS scientists and land managers is essential to insure the efficient continuation and success of AML cleanup efforts."

Rob Robinson, Bureau of Land Management, Denver, Colo. (written communication, 2001)

See Watershed Contamination from Hard Rock Mining investigations for more information.

"This multidisciplined effort (the USGS Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative) already is proving very valuable to land managers in making science-based AML cleanup decisions and will continue to be of increasing value as additional and more complete information is obtained. Ongoing interaction between scientists and land managers is essential to insure the efficient continuation and success of AML cleanup efforts."

Tim Bozorth (Bureau of Land Management, Billings, Mont.) and Ray TeSoro (U.S. Forest Service, Missoula, Mont.), U.S. Geological Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-297, Proceedings of Workshop Feb. 4-5, 1998.

See Watershed Contamination from Hard Rock Mining investigations for more information.

Program scientists have developed a new stream tracer technology [Tracer Tests Steer Cleanup of Mined Watersheds] that determines and quantifies the major sources of stream contamination in heavily mined watershed. At the request of US Environmental Protection Agency, US Forest Service, National Park Service, the City of Helena Montana, and Stakeholders (which includes local citizens and industry) at Creede CO, and Questa New Mexico, 13 stream tracer experiments have been conducted by Program scientists to help in decision-making related to abandoned mine lands contamination problems. Two more tests have been requested and are scheduled for summer 2001.

"Approximately 85% of the land in the Upper Animas Basin is under public ownership. A large number of abandoned mines are located on U.S. Forest Service (FS) or U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. There are thousands of abandoned sites on public lands throughout the West. To better understand how to handle problems these sites may create, the Department of Interior began an Abandoned Mined Lands Initiative (AML) in 1997 to study two pilot areas - one is the Boulder Creek drainage in Montana and the other is the Upper Animas Basin (Buxton, 1999). … A number of studies from the AML Program have been used in this UAA for characterizing the watershed."

From the Upper Animas River Use Attainability Analysis, (2001), loading section, p. III-2

See Hard Rock Mining Contamination in Rocky Mountain Terrain for more inforamtion.

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