Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Science Team

Science Center Objects

The team studies toxicants and pathogens in water resources from their sources, through watersheds, aquifers, and infrastructure to human and wildlife exposures. That information is used to develop decision tools that protect human and wildlife health.

Americans rely on treatment of drinking water and wastewater, and the maintenance of water distribution infrastructure to assure safe water supplies for the public and wildlife. New chemicals are manufactured and used every day. Populations grow and demographics shift. Treatment, conveyance and plumbing infrastructure ages, and new technologies are developed to detect contaminants (toxicants and pathogens) at low levels. Consequently, questions arise about the health effects of exposure to contaminants indidually or in complex mixtures. 

The US Geological Survey’s Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Science Team provides information on processes that affect contaminants as they move from naturally occurring and human-caused sources through aquifers, aquatic environments, and infrastructure. This comprehensive understanding of contaminant profiles from source to exposure is used to develop decision tools to economically, effectively, and efficiently reduce wildlife or human exposure and associated health risks. 


Cutaway illustration of contaminant sources and exposure pathways

The Environmental Health Mission Area's Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Science Team and other USGS Programs are building upon their previous studies to understand sources and occurrence of toxicants and pathogens in aquifers, streams, drinking water facilities and tap waters in homes and residences.  This information is used to understand human and wildlife exposure, and to determine if there are any adverse effects upon exposure (Credit: Razmus Y. Kerwin. Public domain.).

Two Mobile Fish Exposure Laboratories with Inset Showing the Inside of One

The team determines if there are effects of contaminant exposure on wildlife in laboratory and field settings.  In this example, the team deployed mobile fish exposure laboratories at sites in the Shenandoah River Watershed, Virginia.

Inside the laboratories (see inset photo) fish were placed in aquariums, and exposed to nearby stream water or wastewater sources. (Credit: Jennifer L. Rapp, U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center. Public domain.)


Questions That the Team Answers:

  • What contaminants are in tap waters originating from publicly and self-supplied drinking water sources?  


  • What factors influence the types of contaminants that are present in tap water?   


  • Are there hazards to fish and wildlife associated with exposure to low-levels of contaminants in streams?  


  • What mitigation actions are the most efficient and cost effective at reducing exposure at the tap for humans? Or in water resources for wildlife?  


  • Can decision tools be established to to define, prioritize and mitigate human and wildlife health risks?