Contaminant Biology Program
Unique Methods Used to Understand Frog Exposure to Pesticides
Frog exposure to pesticides in agricultural areas was studied using a novel combination of radio telemetry and passive samplingScience Feature
Scientists Identify Processes that Affect Fish Mercury Concentrations
Sulfur cycling and ecological conditions are important factors that affect fish mercury concentrations in estuarine wetlandsScience Feature
Selected Pharmaceuticals Not Likely to Persist in Wild Fish
Laboratory study shows that uptake and elimination of selected pharmaceuticals in bluegills is rapid indicating that persistence is likely to be lowScience Feature
Endocrine Active Chemical Screening Tests Optimized
Scientists optimized existing endocrine active chemical screening tests to improve their precision, accuracy, and ability to timelinessScience Feature
Programs L2 Landing Page
The U.S. Geological Survey Contaminant Biology Program develops and applies advanced laboratory methods and field investigations to understand potential biological health effects from exposures to chemical and microbial hazards in the environment.
USGS Environmental Health Science, led by the Contaminant Biology and theToxic Substances Hydrology Programs, supports specialized teams of scientists who develop and apply advanced laboratory methods and field investigations to understand how contaminants and pathogens enter and move through the environment and affect the health of insects, fish, wildlife, and domestic animals.Our Science Strategy
The public worries that uranium in natural geologic formations, mine tailings, dusts, water, and other geologic materials can pose a health hazard to humans and wildlife.
Our specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, and geologists working together at a field site in the Grand Canyon region of the United States have shown:
Elevated uranium concentrations (above the drinking...
Science from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other entities has shown that a mixture of natural and synthetic estrogens and other similar chemicals are discharged from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to streams and rivers.
USGS and University of Colorado hydrologists, chemists, geologists, and biologists studied the chemistry and biology of Boulder Creek downstream of Boulder ...
There are no national databases or tracking of the number or frequency of manure spills in the United States. Some past spills have been shown to result from events such as equipment failures, over-application of manure to agricultural fields, runoff from open feedlots, storage overflow, accidents with manure transporting equipment, severe weather events, or possibly deliberate actions....
Our specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, and geologists working together at field sites in Northeastern US after Hurricane Sandy have shown:
- Metal contaminants were released to the environment after Hurricane Sandy due to some dune restoration activities.
- In other locations the storm actually decreased contaminant exposures to bottom dwelling aquatic biota. ...
A growing number of human gastrointestinal, respiratory, dermatologic, and neurologic effects, as well as dog and livestock illnesses and deaths, in the United States have been linked to exposures to algal blooms in recreational lakes and stock ponds.
Some of the blooms contain cyanobacteria, which have the potential to produce cyanotoxins in freshwater systems. However, the connection...
Safe Drinking Water Act compliance addresses the safety of public-supply water systems. The composition of public-supply drinking water is generally only tested at the treatment plant, and not at the tap after traveling through the water distribution system. Only lead and copper are tested at a subset of residential and other taps. Testing of water in private wells is rare unless local health...
Are Tumors in Wild Fish Harvested in the Great Lakes Region Related to Contaminants in Water Resources?
Our specialized teams of scientists are working in our laboratories and at field sites around the Great Lakes in collaboration with other federal and state resource agencies to document the prevalence of skin and liver tumors. Tumor prevalence in white suckers (Catostomus commersonii), a fish harvested as a food source by local communities, is related to the degree of urbanization in watershed...
Are Spills Associated with Deep Well Injection of Wastewater from Oil and Gas Operations a Health Hazard?
We have specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, biologists, and geologists working together in the New River Gorge National River watershed to answer this question.
Wastewater generated in association with oil and gas operations at this site is managed by injection in deep wells designed to safely dispose and contain contaminants in deep geologic formations.
Access to an adequate, safe, and sustainable food supply is one of the highest priorities for our society. Agricultural crop and livestock production often occur within the same landscapes. Their yields as well as pests, diseases, and other threats are effectively managed by using a variety of tools such as synthetic nutrients, pesticides, and veterinary pharmaceuticals. Best management...
Algal blooms frequently occur in our Nation's water resources and can cause economic, ecologic and human health concerns. Natural toxins produced by cyanobacteria and other microorganisms are commonly associated with algal blooms. Yet, the actual health threats posed to the public, pets, livestock, and wildlife by these toxins in water resources used for recreation and drinking water remain...
Managers of federal lands (national parks and monuments, refuges, wildlands, etc.) need to use chemicals to deal with difficult issues such as stopping wildfires, controlling wildlife disease, and removing non-native plants and animals. Sometimes, using chemicals to deal with these issues has the potential to cause unintended consequences and unforeseen health impacts to both humans and other...
Mineral mining is an essential part of a healthy economy. U.S. mines produced an estimated $75.2 billion in nonfuel minerals during 2017 including industrial minerals, aggregates, and metals. The mining industry and government regulators work to prevent the release of contaminants such as metals into the environment from mining activities. With interdisciplinary scientists in our laboratories...
The Environmental Health Mission Area (EHMA) supports science across the nation.
White-nose syndrome: cutaneous invasive ascomycosis in hibernating batsMeteyer, Carol; Verant, Michelle
Information to prevent human exposure to disease agents associated with wildlife—U.S. Geological Survey circulars on zoonotic disease
The U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others have published reports with information about geographic distribution, specific pathogens, disease ecology, and strategies to avoid exposure and infection for a selection of zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be passed from...Meteyer, Carol U.; Moede Rogall, Gail
Contact and contagion: Probability of transmission given contact varies with demographic state in bighorn sheep
Understanding both contact and probability of transmission given contact are key to managing wildlife disease. However, wildlife disease research tends to focus on contact heterogeneity, in part because the probability of transmission given contact is notoriously difficult to measure. Here, we present a first step towards empirically investigating...Manlove, Kezia R.; Cassirer, E. Frances; Plowright, Raina K.; Cross, Paul C.; Hudson, Peter J.
Gene transcription patterns in response to low level petroleum contaminants in Mytilus trossulus from field sites and harbors in southcentral Alaska
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill damaged a wide range of natural resources, including intertidal communities, and post-spill studies demonstrated acute and chronic exposure and injury to an array of species. Standard toxicological methods to evaluate petroleum contaminants have assessed tissue burdens, with fewer assays providing...Bowen, Lizabeth; Miles, A. Keith; Ballachey, Brenda E.; Waters, Shannon C.; Bodkin, James L.; Lindeberg, Mandy; Esler, Daniel N.
Efficacy and residual toxicity of a sodium hydroxide based ballast water treatment system for freshwater bulk freighters
The efficacy and residual toxicity of a sodium hydroxide (NaOH) based ballast water treatment system (BWTS) were tested aboard the Great Lakes carrier M/V American Spiritin 1000 L mesocosms containing water from the ship's ballast tanks. NaOH was added to elevate the pH to 11.5 or 11.7 for 48 h, after which pH...Elskus, Adria; Mitchelmore, Carys L.; Wright, David; Henquinet, Jeffrey W.; Welschmeyer, Nicholas; Flynn, Colin; Watten, Barnaby J.
Maternal transfer of mercury to songbird eggs
We evaluated the maternal transfer of mercury to eggs in songbirds, determined whether this relationship differed between songbird species, and developed equations for predicting mercury concentrations in eggs from maternal blood. We sampled blood and feathers from 44 house wren (Troglodytes aedon) and 34 tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) mothers...Ackerman, Joshua T.; Hartman, C. Alex; Herzog, Mark P.
Selenium: Mercury molar ratios in freshwater fish in the Columbia River Basin: Potential applications for specific fish consumption advisories
Fish provide a valuable source of beneficial nutrients and are an excellent source of low fat protein. However, fish are also the primary source of methylmercury exposure in humans. Selenium often co-occurs with mercury and there is some evidence that selenium can protect against mercury toxicity yet States issue fish consumption advisories based...Cusack, Leanne K.; Eagles-Smith, Collin A.; Harding, Anna K.; Kile, Molly; Stone, Dave
Widespread occurrence and potential for biodegradation of bioactive contaminants in Congaree National Park, USA
Organic contaminants with designed molecular bioactivity, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals, originate from human and agricultural sources, occur frequently in surface waters, and threaten the structure and function of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Congaree National Park in South Carolina (USA) is a vulnerable park unit due to its...Bradley, Paul M.; Battaglin, William A.; Clark, Jimmy M.; Henning, Frank; Hladik, Michelle L.; Iwanowicz, Luke R.; Journey, Celeste A.; Riley, Jeffrey W.; Romanok, Kristin
Occurrence and in vitro bioactivity of estrogen, androgen, and glucocorticoid compounds in a nationwide screen of United States stream waters
In vitro bioassays are sensitive, effect-based tools used to quantitatively screen for chemicals with nuclear receptor activity in environmental samples. We measured in vitro estrogen (ER), androgen (AR), and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) activity, along with a broad suite of chemical analytes, in streamwater from 35 well-characterized sites (3...Conley, Justin M.; Evans, Nicola; Cardon, Mary C.; Rosenblum, Laura; Iwanowicz, Luke R.; Hartig, Phillip C.; Schenck, Kathleen M.; Bradley, Paul M.; Wilson, Vickie S.
Geographic and temporal patterns of variation in total mercury concentrations in blood of harlequin ducks and blue mussels from Alaska
We compared total mercury (Hg) concentrations in whole blood of harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) sampled within and among two geographically distinct locations and across three years in southwest Alaska. Blue mussels were collected to assess correlation between Hg concentrations in locally available forage and birds. Mercury...Savoy, Lucas; Flint, Paul L.; Zwiefelhofer, Denny; Brant, Heather; Perkins, Christopher R.; Taylor, Robert J.; Lane, Oksana P.; Hall, Jefferson S.; Evers, David C.; Schamber, Jason
Mercury and water level fluctuations in lakes of northern Minnesota
Large lake ecosystems support a variety of ecosystem services in surrounding communities, including recreational and commercial fishing. However, many northern temperate fisheries are contaminated by mercury. Annual variation in mercury accumulation in fish has previously been linked to water level (WL) fluctuations, opening the possibility of...Larson, James H.; Maki, Ryan P.; Christensen, Victoria G.; Sandheinrich, Mark B.; LeDuc, Jaime F.; Kissane, Claire; Knights, Brent C.
Importance of the 2014 Colorado River Delta pulse flow for migratory songbirds: Insights from foraging behavior
The Lower Colorado River provides critical riparian areas in an otherwise arid region and is an important stopover site for migrating landbirds. In order to reverse ongoing habitat degradation due to drought and human-altered hydrology, a pulse flow was released from Morelos Dam in spring of 2014, which brought surface flow to dry stretches of the...Darrah, Abigail J.; Greeney, Harold F.; van Riper, Charles
Diagram showing how wastewater discharging from wastewater treatment plants might flow downstream and end up as part of the source water for drinking-water treatment plants.
A USGS scientist prepares a sample to test the effect of antibiotics on denitrifying bacteria within a glove box. A glove box allows scientists to work with samples in an anaerobic (no oxygen) atmosphere, the conditions under which denitrification occurs.
Using the 384-well plate format, a single zebrafish embryo is tested in each well. This is an example of a 72 hour post fertilization fli1:egfp zebrafish (3 millimeters long) imaged under a fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) filter.
Molecular Devices ImageXpress† High-Content Imaging System
Molecular Devices ImageXpress† High-Content Imaging System that can generate more than 25,000 images in less than 5 hours of automated image acquisition.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist working on data analysis of cyanotoxins in water samples
Keith A. Loftin, USGS, is the lead scientist for algal and cyanobacterial toxins
USGS scientists evaluating the nebulizer assembly in a mixed mode ionization source of a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer used to measure individual cyanotoxins
Eosin-nigrosin staining of spermatozoa from common carp (Cyprinus carpio) testes collected from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada
Microscopic video imaging is used for computerized analysis of sperm motility parameters
Tablet-enabled field forms have been developed to help coordinate field efforts, collect site information, GPS coordinates, photos, and control data collection.
U.S. Geological Survey scientists conducting health assessments on smallmouth bass collected from a creek in Pennsylvania.
In addition to news release about our latest papers we also provide Environmental Health Featured Science Activities that highlight the results of our investigations.See Our Featured Science Activities
Potential reintroduction of the endangered California Condor to parts of its historic range in the Pacific Northwest would benefit from information on possible threats that could challenge recovery efforts. Exposure to environmental contaminants is a key limiting factor for condor recovery in its southern range.
Studies on the aquatic food web, tree swallows, and the spread of contaminants take center stage at SETAC 2016.
Environmental Ratios of Cadmium and Zinc are less Toxic to Aquatic Insects than Expected
Mercury contamination is widespread, at various levels across western North America in air, soil, sediment, plants, fish and wildlife.
When you’re not dead yet, but aren’t feeling well either, there’s an EarthWord for that...
Evidence of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewater Found in Surface Waters near Underground Injection Site
These are the first published studies to demonstrate water-quality impacts to a surface stream due to activities at an unconventional oil and gas wastewater deep well injection disposal site.
The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs.
Although the Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River features one of the most remote ecosystems in the United States, it is not immune to exposure from toxic chemicals such as mercury according to newly published research in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
USGS discovered insecticides known as neonicotinoids in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a study by the agency published today inEnvironmental Chemistry.
Scientists working to understand the devastating bat disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) now have a new, non-lethal tool to identify bats with WNS lesions —ultraviolet, or UV, light.