U.S. Geological Survey - Environmental Health

Vol. 5, No. 1 – June 2007

GeoHealth Newsletter

  USGS Activities Related to Human Health
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Predicting Areas with Elevated Arsenic in Bedrock Wells in New Hampshire

New Hampshire portion of New England
                                    arsenic model
New Hampshire portion of the New England arsenic model

New evidence suggests that bladder cancer mortality is correlated with private well use in the New England region. As part of a full-scale epidemiologic study of bladder cancer in northern New England, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the National Cancer Institute, Colorado State University, and Dartmouth School of Medicine developed a model that predicts which areas in New England are likely to have bedrock wells with drinking water with arsenic concentrations exceeding 5 micrograms per liter (µg/L).

The USGS as started a new project in partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Human Health Services (NHDHHS), which is scheduled to begin later this year. The project will endeavor to improve the regional model for New Hampshire, through the State's Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, which is supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In New Hampshire, arsenic is more prevalent than in most other parts of New England and additional explanatory data currently exist that could be used to improve model predictions within New Hampshire. An improved ability to predict arsenic may have a significant positive effect on health outcomes by providing citizens, government agencies, and researchers with probability estimates and other information on this contaminant.

The study objectives include assembling new arsenic data generated by the New Hampshire Environmental Health Tracking Program; development of an updated predictive model for arsenic in bedrock wells; and assessing the feasibility of applying this model to other contaminants as part of a proposed New Hampshire Atlas of drinking-water well contaminants. The other contaminants could include uranium, manganese, fluoride, lead, radon, nitrate, and VOCs, among others.

More Information:


Polar Organic Compounds in Surface Waters near Lead-Zinc Mining Operations in Missouri

USGS Scientists sample tailings in
                                    Southeast Missouri
USGS Scientists sample tailings in Southeast Missouri

Mining activities in many areas of the country are increasing due to the expanding market in Asia for the Nation's raw materials. One such area is the Old Lead Belt and its successor the New Lead Belt, in southeast Missouri. Both of these areas have a long history of lead-zinc mining, which released large quantities of solid wastes and toxic metals to the environment. Mining-related environmental studies have, therefore, focused on the characterizing the release of metals and other inorganic materials into the environment and the effects of these releases on air quality, water quality, and ecosystem health. Modern metal beneficiation processes, such as those employed in the mines and mills of the New Lead Belt in Missouri, have significantly improved and minimized the concentration of metals in the liquid wastes discharged from the beneficiation processes. However, these processes rely heavily on organic chemicals, such as xanthates, alcohols, and other reagents—compounds that are toxic to humans and wildlife. These compounds are called polar organic chemicals because they have a greater affinity for other organic matter than they do for water. USGS scientists have started a new study to investigate the occurrence of polar organic chemicals derived from metal beneficiation in streams draining active mine-mill complexes in the New Lead Belt area of southeast Missouri. The investigation will include onsite studies of streams, springs, and ground water; geologic mapping; research on the mobilization of trace elements during the mining of lead-zinc ore; the effect of tailing piles on stream water and sediment quality; surveys of stream biological quality and lead accumulation by aquatic biota; and research on the toxicity of lead and other heavy metals to aquatic biota. The study will determine if polar organic chemicals pose a health risk to downstream biota and drinking water sources.

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Aquatic Life Exposed to Lead, Cadmium and Zinc in Missouri Streams

Streams draining a lead-mining district in southeast Missouri carry a burden of lead, cadmium and zinc, which can find their way into aquatic life. Elevated concentrations of lead, cadmium, and zinc were found in aquatic life that were above concentrations found in streams away from the mining areas according to a recent paper in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment by USGS scientists. These findings are significant because they demonstrate that heavy metals originating from long-term lead mining activity in southeast Missouri are available for bioaccumulation by stream life. The results of this study has led to further research on potential toxic effects of metals on aquatic life and bioaccumulation downstream of mining areas.

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Citrus Pesticides in Ground Water and Lakes in Central Florida

Citrus grove in central Florida
Citrus grove in central Florida

The USGS is partnering with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bureau of Pesticides and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to conduct an assessment of the susceptibility of ground water and lakes to pesticides and nutrients associated with citrus agriculture in central Florida. The sandy soils (Entisols) along the central Florida ridge systems are a mainstay of Florida's citrus agriculture. The Lake Wales Ridge, a representative area covered by one of the most extensive concentrations of citrus groves in the U.S., is vulnerable to leaching of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. The ground-water system in the surficial (water table) aquifer, a source of rural water supply, is closely linked with the numerous lakes in the region and is hydraulically connected with the underlying Upper Floridan aquifer, the primary municipal water supply for the region. A network of wells has provided an "early warning" of pesticides leaching into ground-water resources. The detection of nitrate, pesticides, and pesticide degradates (chemicals formed by the degradation of pesticides) in ground water in this area confirm the vulnerability of the region. This will be the first survey of the occurrence of pesticides in the area's lakes.

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Mussels are Disappearing in the U.S.

Laboratory equipment used for toxicity
                                    testing of larva (glochidia) of greshwater mussels
Laboratory equipment used for toxicity testing of larva (glochidia) of greshwater mussels

Freshwater mussels are rapidly declining in the United States, although not unique to North America, the decline in the United States is notable because mussels reach their greatest diversity here. USGS scientists and there partners have published a series of papers in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (see New Publications section), that discuss the development and applications of toxicity tests with early life stages of freshwater mussels. The new toxicity tests were use to assess the sensitivity of mussels to several contaminants, such as copper and ammonia. Their results indicate that national water-quality criteria for copper and ammonia may not be adequately protecting the mussel species they tested.

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Endocrine Disruption Found in Fish Exposed to Municipal Wastewater

Aquariums where male fathead
                                    minnows were exposed to the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant
Aquariums where male fathead minnows were exposed to the effluent from a wastewater treatment plant

USGS scientists and their colleagues have found that exposure to the wastewater from a major metropolitan sewage treatment plant caused endocrine disruption in male fathead minnows. After exposure to the wastewater the male minnows started producing vitellogenin--a female egg-yoke protein. Treated wastewater discharge has been identified as a source of endocrine disrupting chemicals to the aquatic environment, and their study documents some of the potential effects, both positive and negative, in fish due to exposure to wastewater.

More Information:

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USGS Circular Wins Another Award

The USGS publication Disease Emergence and Resurgence: The Wildlife-Human Connection (Circular 1285) by Milton Friend and others has recently been awarded The Best Book Award from The Wildlife Society. Works recognized by this award of excellence are scientific writing characterized by originality of research or thought and a high scholastic standard in the manner of presentation. In April, the National Association of Government Communicators awarded the book first place in the soft-cover book category.

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 Upcoming Meetings go to top of page 
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National Environmental Health Association, 71st Annual Education Conference & Exhibition, June 18-21, 2007, Atlantic City, New Jersey.

This conference provided educational related events and 175 sessions presented in 21 technical sections that focused on environmental health. Included among the topic-oriented sections were quality of ambient air, indoor air, and drinking-water; environmental leadership development, research, and public health tracking; emerging pathogens and vector control and zoonotic diseases; and solid waste and onsite wastewater systems. These are among a few of the technical sessions that covered a broad overview of environmental health issues. Abstracts are available on CD.

Conference Web Site

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 New Publications go to top of page 
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Coming Soon!

March, F.A., Dwyer, F.J., Augspurger, T., Ingersoll, C.G., Wang, N., and Mebane, C.A., 2007, An evaluation of freshwater mussel toxicity data in the derivation of water quality guidance and standards for copper: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26 (IN PRESS).

Wang, N., Augspurger, T., Barnhart, M.C., Bidwell, J.R., Cope, W.G., Dwyer, F.J., Geis, S., Greer, I.E., Ingersoll, C.G., Kane, C.M., May, T.W., Neves, R.J., Newton, T.J., Roberts, A.D., and Whites, D.W., 2007, Intra- and inter-laboratory variability in acute toxicity tests with glochidia and juveniles of freshwater mussels (Unionidae). Environ Toxicol Chem 26.: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26 (IN PRESS).

Wang, N., Ingersoll, C.G., Greer, I.E., Hardesty, D.K., Ivey, C.D., Kunz, J.L., Dwyer, F.J., Roberts, A.D., Augspurger, T., Kane, C.M., Neves, R.J., and Barnhart, M.C., 2007, Chronic toxicity of copper and ammonia to juvenile freshwater mussels (Unionidae): Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26 (IN PRESS).

Wang, N., Ingersoll, C.G., Hardesty, D.K., Ivey, C.D., Kunz, J.L., May, T.W., Dwyer, F.J., Roberts, A.D., Augspurger, T., Kane, C.M., Neves, R.J., and Barnhart, M.C., 2007, Acute toxicity of copper, ammonia, and chlorine to glochidia and juveniles of freshwater mussels (Unionidae): Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 26 (IN PRESS).

Published Recently!

Barber, L.B., Lee, K.E., Swackhamer, D.L., Schoenfuss, H.L., 2007, Reproductive responses of male fathead minnows exposed to wastewater treatment plant effluent, effluent treated with XAD8 resin, and an environmentally relevant mixture of alkylphenol compounds: Aquatic Toxicology, v. 82, no. 1, p. 36-46, doi: doi:10.1016/j.aquatox.2007.01.003.

Brumbaugh, W.G., May, T.W., Besser, J.M., Allert, A.L., and Schmitt, C.J., 2007, Assessment of Elemental Concentrations in Streams of the New Lead Belt in Southeastern Missouri, 2002-05: U.S. Geological Suevey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5057, 57 p.

Farag, A.M., Nimick, D.A., Kimball, B.A., Church, S.E., Harper, D.D., and Brumbaugh, W.G., 2007, Concentrations of metals in water, sediment, biofilm, benthic macroinvertebrates, and fish in the Boulder River Watershed, Montana, and the role of colloids in metal uptake: Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, v. 52, no. 3, p. 397-409, doi:10.1007/s00244-005-0021-z.

Harvey, R.W., Harms, H., and Landkamer, L., 2007, Transport of microorganisms in the terrestrial subsurface--In situ and laboratory methods, in Hurst, C.J., and others, eds., Manual of Environmental Microbiology (3rd ed.): Washington, D.C., ASM Press, v. VI.

May, T.W., Wakteher, M.J., and Brumbaugh, W.G., 2007, Selenium concentrations in irrigation drain inflows to the Salton Sea, California, October 2006 and January 2007: U.S. Geological survey Open-File Report 2007-1113, 18p.

Robinson, G.R., and Ayotte, J.D., 2007, Rock-bound arsenic influences ground water and sediment chemistry throughout New England: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1119, 18 p.

Robinson, G.R., Larkins, P., Boughton, C.J., Reed, B.W., and Sibrell, P.L., 2007, Assessment of contamination from arsenical pesticide use on orchards in the great valley region, Virginia and West Virginia, USA: Journal of Environmental Quality, v. 36, no. 3, p. 654-663, doi:10.2134/jeq2006.0413.

Vogel, J.R., Stoeckel, D.M., Lamendella, R., Zelt, R.B., Santo Domingo, J.W., Walker, S.R., and Oerther, D.B., 2007, Identifying fecal sources in a selected catchment reach using multiple source-tracking tools: Journal of Environmental Quality, v. 36, no. 3, p. 718-729

Compiled and Edited by David W. Morganwalp

Errata, 3/31/2014


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