U.S. Geological Survey - Environmental Health

Vol. 4, No. 2 – December 2006

GeoHealth Newsletter

  USGS Activities Related to Human Health
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water drop Volatile Organic Compounds in Our Ground Water

U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) recently released report, “Volatile Organic Compounds in the Nation’s Ground Water and Drinking-Water Supply Wells,” provides one of the most comprehensive analyses to date on 55 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in samples collected from untreated drinking water supplies throughout the United States. Analytical results were available from more than 2,400 domestic wells and nearly 1,100 public wells. To place findings in the context of human health, an initial screening-level assessment was conducted by comparing VOC concentrations to human-health benchmarks, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Levels and Health-Based Screening Levels developed by the USGS in collaboration with the USEPA and others. This report, USGS Circular 1292 by Zogorski and others (2006), is available on the internet . An accompanying fact sheet on what the findings may mean to human health, as well as in-depth technical information, downloadable data, and answers to frequently asked questions, are also available on a supporting web page.

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Figure Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water

This new report provides information on pesticide occurrence in streams and ground water, based on results from studies completed during 1992–2001. Among the major findings are that pesticides are frequently present in streams and ground water, are seldom at concentrations likely to affect humans, but occur in many streams at concentrations that may have effects on aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife. The report also provides information on pesticide concentrations in fish. The report and supporting information and data are available on the Internet.

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Breaking the Chain of Disease Transmission

animal Most newly emerging human diseases originate in animals and many disease agents can be transmitted between domestic animals and wildlife. These disease agents have the potential to cause human illness or death, to impose heavy economic costs on commercial agricultural, and threaten the sustainability of wildlife populations; and yet little is known about the occurrence of these diseases in wildlife. USGS scientists at the National Wildlife Health Center and the Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit are collaborating with other University, Medical, USGS, and USDA scientists to understand the occurrence of zoonotic (transmissible between animals and people) and economically important disease agents within several wildlife species. Preliminary findings show that medium-sized mammals are infected by West Nile virus, paratuberculosis (Johne’s disease in cattle), toxoplasma, and trichinella. USGS scientists are also conducting studies to identify other pathogens that primarily affect wildlife species. The results of this work will help to identify future research needs on how new disease agents are introduced, maintained, and transmitted at the human-livestock-wildlife interface.

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Edgewater, Cleveland, Ohio Beach Modeling Helps Swimmers Make Wise Decisions

During the summer of 2006, the USGS and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health instituted and tested a system to quickly estimate bacteria levels and provide beach advisories to swimmers headed to Huntington Beach in Bay Village, Lake Erie, Ohio . By 9:30 each morning a Nowcast (a forecast of current conditions) was posted for the day that estimated current conditions (bacteria levels) enabling swimmers to access advisory information before they left for the beach. The estimates are made using a computer model especially calibrated for Huntington Beach, which takes into account current weather and environmental conditions. Nowcast information for Huntington Beach on the Internet. Report on the general methodology is available for use at other beaches on the Internet.

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USGS Participates in Study of Leukemia Cluster

Between 1997 and 2001, 15 children were diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia with one additional case of acute myelogenous leukemia in Churchill County, Nevada. This prompted an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the eventual designation as a cancer cluster. A team of Nevada scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno and the U.S. Geological Survey will study whether compounds found in the drinking water of Churchill County residents potentially could have contributed to this cancer cluster. The investigators will collect and analyze both ground water and well water from around Churchill County for arsenic, tungsten and polonium-210, all potentially carcinogenic compounds. The sampling program will provide valuable information regarding the distribution of polonium-210 in Churchill County ground water. Water samples will also be used for animal-based toxicological testing by scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno. The results of this study, the second USGS water study in the Fallon area, are intended to inform resource managers and the public.

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National Summary of the Quality of Domestic Well Water

Data from over 18,000 wells were analyzed to develop the first national-scale retrospective of self-supplied drinking water sources. The study looked at a range of inorganic and organic compounds. Inorganic contaminants were detected in many well and concentrations exceeded USEPA drinking water standards more often than organic contaminants. The report was published in the journal Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation, volume 26, number 3.

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 Upcoming Meetings go to top of page 
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Integrating Environment and Human Health, 7th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment, Washington, D.C., February 1-2, 2007. 

Over 120 experts will speak in plenary sessions, symposia, and topical breakout sessions. The conference is interactive and will address the many essential roles the environment plays on our well-being today, as well as the multi-dimensional relationships between human health and environmental components, which may have far-reaching consequences for society.  Join leading scientists, policy makers, educators, and others to develop science-based solutions to protect people and the planet.

Conference Web Site

Sponsors: National Council for Science and the Environment, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others.


Earth Science and Public Health, Second National Conference on USGS Health-Related Research, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia, February 28-March 1, 2007.

Collaboration between the public health and earth science communities can lead to solutions for existing and emerging environmental health problems. Organizations and individuals interested in environmental and earth science factors affecting human health will be interested in attending this conference, which is designed to provide a broad forum for discussion, bringing together a variety of interested parties, including policy makers, scientists, resource managers, Congressional staffers, and representatives from Federal and State governments and non-governmental organizations.

Conference Web Site

Sponsor: U.S. Geological Survey

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 New Publications go to top of page 
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Coming Soon!

  • Anderson, J.L., Meece, J.K., Koziczkowski, J.J., Clark, J.L., Jr, Radcliff, R.D., Nolden, C.A., Samuel, M.D., and Ellingson, J.L.E., Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis in scavenging mammals in Wisconsin: Journal of Wildlife Diseases (IN PRESS).

Published Recently!

  • Ayotte, J.D., Baris, Dalsu, Cantor, K.P., Colt, Joanne, Robinson, G.R., Jr., Lubin, J.H., Karagas, Margaret, Hoover, R.N., Fraumeni, J.F., Jr., and Silverman, D.T., 2006, Bladder cancer mortality and private well use in New England—An ecological study: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, v. 60, p. 168-172.
  • Bunnell, J.E., and others, 2006, Possible linkages between lignite aquifers, pathogenic microbes, and renal pelvic cancer in northwestern Louisiana, USA: Environmental Geochemistry and Health, v. 28, no. 6, p. 577-587.
  • Docherty, D.E., Samuel, M.D., Nolden, C.A., Egstad, K.E., and Griffin, K.M., 2006, West nile virus antibody prevalence in medium-sized mammals in southern Wisconsin—Emerging infectious diseases, v. 12, p. 1978-1980.
  • Friend, M., 2006, Disease emergence and resurgence—The wildlife - human connection: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1285, 400 p.
  • Friend, M., 2006, Tularemia: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1297, 68 p.
  • Gilliom, R.J., and others, 2006, The Quality of our Nation’s waters—Pesticides in the nation’s streams and ground water, 1992–2001: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1291, 172 p.
  • Kellogg , C.A., and Griffin, D.W., 2006, Aerobiology and the global transport of desert dust: Trends in Ecology and Evolution, v. 21, no. 11, p. 638-644.
  • Seiler, R., 2006, Mobilization of lead and other trace elements following shock chlorination of wells: Science of the Total Environment, v. 367, p. 757–768.
  • Toccalino, P.L. and Norman, J.E., 2006, Health-based screening levels to evaluate U.S. Geological Survey ground-water quality data: Risk Analysis, v. 26, no. 5, p. 1339-1348.
  • Zogorski, J.S., and others, 2006, The quality of our Nation’s water—Vola­tile organic compounds in the Nation’s ground water and drinking-water supply wells: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1292, 101 p.
  • Focazio, M.J., Tipton, Deborah, Shapiro, S.D., and Geiger, L.H., 2006, The chemical quality of self-supplied domestic well water in the United States: Ground Water Monitoring and Remediation, v. 26, no. 3, p. 92-104.

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