Contaminant Biology Program


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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. A primary focus is on the Nation's living resources that are under the stewardship of the Department of the Interior.

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USGS specializes in science at the environment-health interface, by characterizing the processes that affect the interaction among the physical environment, the living environment, and people, and the resulting factors that affect ecological and human exposure to disease agents.

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Filter Total Items: 23
Date published: April 3, 2018
Status: Active

Effect of Chronic Neonicotinoid Insecticide Exposure upon Monarch Development

The long-term viability of monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly populations in North America is in doubt.

Date published: February 7, 2018
Status: Active

Relative Sensitivity of Adult Mosquitoes and Butterflies to Adult Mosquito Control Pesticides

Mosquito control on Department of the Interior (DOI) managed lands is a resource management challenge. The pesticides used to control mosquitoes may also affect nontarget organisms whose conservation is one of the primary responsibilities of resource managers.

Date published: November 16, 2017
Status: Active

Chronic Wasting Disease

Over the past 20 years, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Wyoming has been spreading slowly outward from the southeastern corner of the state toward the Greater Yellowstone Area and Wyoming's elk feed grounds, where more than 24,000 elk are supplementally fed each winter.

Contacts: Paul Cross, Angela Brennan & Matt Kauffman
Date published: November 16, 2017
Status: Active


Brucellosis is a nationally and internationally regulated disease of livestock with significant consequences for animal health, public health, and international trade.

Contacts: Paul Cross, Emily Almberg, Kelly Proffitt, Brandon Scurlock, & Eric Maichak, Jared Rogerson & Hank Edwards, Mark Drew & Paul Atwood , Eric Cole, Angela Brennan
Date published: October 31, 2017
Status: Active

Detecting Differences in Bacterial Metabolism in the Buffalo National River

Each year, the Buffalo National River (BUFF) attracts 1.6 million visitors, many of whom enjoy recreational water activities. Since 2013, a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) for swine has been operating on Big Creek, a BUFF tributary.

Date published: December 19, 2016
Status: Active

Characterization of Avian Hazards Following Chlorophacinone Use for Prairie Dog Control

The Challenge: Black-tailed prairie dogs are considered a keystone species for the prairie habitat. Many avian species are associated with black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in winter.  Raptors feed on prairie dogs and non-raptor avian species forage within prairie dog colonies.  However prairie dogs are also considered agricultural pests. The first generation anticoagulant...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Contaminant Exposure, Food Web Transfer and Potential Health Effects on Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay Waterbirds

The Challenge: Agricultural, industrial and urban activities have had major effects on waterbirds in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. Some legacy pollutants (PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, flame retardants, metals) pose a potential threat to wildlife in some locations. Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and endocrine disrupting compounds have been detected in water and fish tissue, yet...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Hazard, Risk and Physiologically-based Pharmacokinetic Model for Anticoagulant Rodenticides in Kestrels and Owls

The Challenge: Anticoagulant rodenticides have been identified as being hazardous to predatory and scavenging birds on a global scale. Restrictions on the sale, distribution and packaging of some second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (e.g., brodifacoum, difethialone, bromadiolone and difenacoum) have been instituted by the US EPA, and will likely result in expanded use of first-...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Toxicity of the Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Diclofenac

The Challenge: Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has been used by veterinarians for the treatment of inflammation, fever and pain in domestic livestock. This drug appears to have been the principal cause of a severe population crash of vultures of the genus Gyps in India and Pakistan. Vultures unintentionally ingested diclofenac when scavenging livestock treated shortly...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Contaminant-related Activities in Support of Client Agencies in the Department of the Interior

The Challenge: The Department of the Interior has extensive responsibilities for management of fish and wildlife, and their supporting habitat. Stewardship activities include assessment of potentially adverse effects of natural and anthropogenic stressors on biota, including chemical contaminants. We assist by providing scientific information to support development of federal guidelines, ...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Toxicity of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Other Flame Retardants to Wildlife

The Challenge: Polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) are contaminants that bioaccumulate and biomagnify in aquatic and terrestrial food webs. Unlike many contemporary pollutants, these flame retardants have increased in the environment over the past 30 years. Studies in Chesapeake and Delaware Bays have documented concentrations of nearly 1 μg/g wet weight of PBDEs in osprey...

Date published: September 19, 2016
Status: Active

Contaminant Exposure and Effects—Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) Database Summary Findings for Trust Resources in U.S. Coastal Habitats

The Challenge: The National Contaminant Biomonitoring Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been the only large-scale effort that has examined contaminant exposure in terrestrial vertebrates in the United States. Halogenated contaminants, metals, and new pollutants continue to pose hazards to wildlife at many geographic scales. To address this hazard, critical data gaps are being...

Filter Total Items: 128
Year Published: 2018

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
Meteyer, C.U., and Rogall, G.M., 2018, Information to prevent human exposure to disease agents associated with wildlife—U.S. Geological Survey circulars on zoonotic disease: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2017–3077, 4 p.,

Year Published: 2017

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.

Year Published: 2017

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.
Bowen, L, AK Miles, B Ballachey, S Waters, J Bodkin, M Lindeberg, D Esler. 2017. Gene transcription patterns in response to low level petroleum contaminants in Mytilus trossulus from field sites and harbors in southcentral Alaska. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. doi: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2017.08.007

Year Published: 2017

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.

Year Published: 2017

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.
Ackerman, JT, CA Hartman, MP Herzog. 2017. Maternal transfer of mercury to songbird eggs. Environmental Pollution 230: 463-468. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.06.099

Year Published: 2017

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

Year Published: 2017

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
Bradley, P.M., W.A. Battaglin, J.M. Clark, F.P. Henning, M.L. Hladik, L.R. Iwanowicz, C.A. Journey, J.W. Riley, and K.M. Romanok. 2017. Widespread Occurrence and Potential for Biodegradation of Bioactive Contaminants in Protected Wilderness of Congaree National Park, USA. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

Year Published: 2017

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.
Justin M. Conley, Nicola Evans, Mary C. Cardon, Laura Rosenblum, Luke R. Iwanowicz, Phillip C. Hartig, Kathleen M. Schenck, Paul M. Bradley, Vickie S. Wilson. 2017. Occurrence and in vitro bioactivity of estrogen, androgen, and glucocorticoid compounds in a nationwide screen of United States stream waters. Environmental Science & Technology.

Year Published: 2017

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
Savoy, L., Flint, P., Zwiefelhofer, D., Brant, H., Perkins, C., Taylor, R., Lane, O., Hall, J., Evers, D., and Schamber, J., 2017, Geographic and temporal patterns of variation in total mercury concentrations in blood of harlequin ducks and blue mussels from Alaska, vol. 117, no. 1-2, p. 178-183. Doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.01.084

Year Published: 2017

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.
Larson, J.H., Maki, R.P., Christensen, V.G., Sandheinrich, M.B., LeDuc, J.F., Kissane, C., Knights, B.C. 2017. Mercury and water level fluctuations in lakes of northern Minnesota. bioRxiv. DOI: 10.1101/118638.

Year Published: 2017

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
Darrah, Abigail .J., Harold F. Greeney and Charles van Riper III. 2016. Importance of the 2014 Colorado River Delta pulse flow for migratory songbirds: Insights from foraging behavior. Ecological Engineering. early online. Full cite to follow.

Year Published: 2017

An evaluation of inorganic toxicity reference values for use in assessing hazards to American robins (Turdus migratorius)

When performing screening-level and baseline risk assessments, assessors usually compare estimated exposures of wildlife receptor species with toxicity reference values (TRVs). We modeled the exposure of American robins (Turdus migratorius) to 10 elements (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Pb, Se, Zn, and V) in spring and early summer, a time when...

Beyer, W. Nelson; Sample, Bradley E.
Beyer, W. N. and Sample, B. E., 2016, An evaluation of inorganic toxicity reference values for use in assessing hazards to American robins (Turdus migratorius): Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management , v. 13, no. 2, p. 352-359.

Filter Total Items: 16
Scientist sitting next to a biological safety cabinet in a laboratory
May 14, 2018

Scientist Sitting Next to a Biological Safety Cabinet in a Laboratory

A U.S. Geological Survey scientist sits next to a biological safety cabinet in the cell bioassay laboratory at Columbia Environmental Research Center. Scientists optimized existing endocrine active chemical screening tests to improve their precision, accuracy, and

Colonies of the Bacteria Bacillus Globigii on a Petri Dish
September 22, 2017

Colonies of the Bacteria Bacillus Globigii on a Petri Dish

Scientists optimized existing methods to collect and identify microorganisms including Bacillus anthracis, a pathogenic microorganism, in 4,800 soil samples across the United States, and developed a

Dr. Bethany K. Kunz sets up a mobile-mounted dust meter
July 7, 2017

Dr. Bethany K. Kunz Sets up a Mobile-Mounted Dust Meter

Dr. Bethany K. Kunz sets up a mobile-mounted dust meter, which measures concentrations of particulate matter across a range of particle sizes. She and her team use the meter to determine the effectiveness of dust control treatments on roads and estimate human exposure to dust in the inhalable size range.

Ducks and geese float on the water at the Cosumnes River Preserve
December 31, 2014

Ducks and geese float on the water at the Cosumnes River Preserve

The Cosumnes River Preserve is home to California’s largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state. Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley, the Preserve is a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating and wintering waterfowl. Over 250 species of birds have been sighted on or near the

larval mussels
October 26, 2013

Larval Mussels

Recent advancements in assessments using early life stages of test organisms (like the larval mussels shown) provide robust alternatives to full life-cycle chronic ecotoxicity tests. For more information on aquatic toxicology test organisms refer to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS

Game camera image of an osprey taken on Poplar Island, Maryland
June 28, 2012

Game camera image of an osprey taken on Poplar Island, Maryland

Game camera image of an osprey taken on Poplar Island, Maryland. Game cameras were used to identify species of fish fed to osprey nestlings. The image was taken during a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study on organic contaminant levels and the reproductive success of ospreys

USGS scientist standing in a stream. The rocks in the stream have iron precipitates
June 28, 2012

USGS Scientist Standing in a Metal Contaminated Stream

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist pauses during field work in a stream impacted by acidic runoff and metal contamination. Iron precipitates are visible on the stream's rocks. The mesh pyramid is an insect emergence trap. A riparian zone rich in terrestrial insects can provide an alternate food source for fish in metal-impacted watersheds. USGS scientists have found

A tree swallow - Tachycineta bicolor
May 16, 2011

A Tree Swallow - Tachycineta Bicolor

A typical tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) in the Great Lakes area. Tree swallows were studied by the scientists for contaminants in the eggs. Tree swallow eggs at most study sites in the Great Lakes basin were minimally exposed to legacy organic contaminants

USGS scientist collecting a liver tissue sample from a wild-caught white sucker
April 12, 2011

USGS Scientist Collecting a Liver Tissue Sample from a Wild-Caught Whi

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist collecting a liver tissue sample from a wild-caught white sucker (Catostomus commersonii) from a river in the Great Lakes area.

The first known hepatitis B virus to infect fish (white sucker) has been discovered by USGS

Photograph Showing White-Faced Ibis Nesting
May 29, 2010

Photograph Showing White-Faced Ibis Nesting

Photograph showing white-faced ibis nesting at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Great Salt Lake, Utah. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists evaluated a nonlethal method to estimate mercury in the embryos of 23 bird species using mercury content in eggshells

Dr. Diann J. Prosser examining a ruddy shelduck
September 14, 2008

Dr. Diann J. Prosser Examining a Ruddy Shelduck

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Dr. Diann J. Prosser examining a ruddy shelduck in China. Dr. Diann J. Prosser was awarded the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on


In addition to news release about our latest papers we also provide Environmental Health Science Feature Articles that highlight the results of our investigations.

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Filter Total Items: 10
Date published: July 11, 2016


When you’re not dead yet, but aren’t feeling well either, there’s an EarthWord for that...

Date published: May 9, 2016

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.

Date published: April 4, 2016

Despite Long-Lasting Pollutants, Ospreys Thrive in US’ Largest Estuary

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.

Date published: December 18, 2015

EarthWord – Medical Geology

Medical Geology is an earth science specialty that concerns how geologic materials and earth processes affect human health. 

Date published: August 19, 2015

Mercury and Selenium are Accumulating in the Colorado River Food Web of the Grand Canyon

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.

Date published: August 18, 2015

Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Found in about Half of Sampled Streams across the United States

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.

Date published: May 29, 2014

Ultra-violet Light Works as Screening Tool for Bats with White-nose Syndrome.

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.

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