Due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions. Websites displaying real-time data, such as Earthquake and Water and information needed for public health and safety will be updated with limited support. Additionally, USGS will not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted.  For more information, please see www.doi.gov/shutdown

Mission Areas

Environmental Health

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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.

Our Science Strategy
Filter Total Items: 91
Date published: May 18, 2018
Status: Completed

New Method Can Measure Naturally Occurring Element Exposure in Hummingbirds Without Harm

Seventeen naturally occurring trace elements, including those associated with adverse health impacts when birds are exposed to toxic levels (iron, lead, mercury, selenium, zinc, cadmium, and arsenic) were measured in small birds without harm. The nonlethal method was developed for hummingbirds, with Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) as a test species and can be more broadly applied...

Contacts: Josh Ackerman, Lisa Tell, Robert Poppenga- DVM, PhD, DABVT
Date published: April 18, 2018
Status: Active

Energy Science Team

The United States is one of the largest users of energy, consuming annually about one-quarter of the energy resources produced in the world. The energy industry and government regulators work to provide energy resources to the public safely and effectively. Management of energy byproducts such as waste materials (including both solid and liquid wastes) from oil and gas development are a...

Date published: March 16, 2018
Status: Active

Spatiotemporal Exploratory Models: Deriving Spatial Waterfowl Inputs for Disease Risk Modeling

The Challenge: Disease risk modeling can be an important tool for identifying areas of high transmission risk within and between animal populations, allowing for strategic allocation of limited resources for disease surveillance and prevention. Acquiring a spatial understanding of the distributions of high risk populations is a critical first step in developing predictive disease transmission...

Date published: December 19, 2017
Status: Completed

Understanding Associations between Mussel Productivity and Cyanotoxins in Lake Erie

Study findings indicate that cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins were not associated with mussel mortality at the concentrations present in Lake Erie during a recent study (2013-15), but mussel growth was lower at sites with greater microcystin concentrations.

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: May 9, 2017
Status: Active

Carbon dioxide (CO2) injected under-ice to enhance winterkill of invasive carps

Invasive Asian carps, primarily silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitirx), bighead carp (H. nobilis), and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), have caused considerable ecological and economic damage in the United States. Resource managers need tools to control populations and limit range expansion of these undesired fish. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one...

Contacts: Aaron Cupp
Date published: March 21, 2017
Status: Active

Genomic and Behavioral Effects of the Neonicotinoid Imidacloprid in Birds Exposed Through Pesticide-Coated Seeds

The Challenge: Neonicotinoid pesticides act as agonists of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) and are designed to be lethal to insects while theoretically posing little to no threat to vertebrates. The perceived safety of neonicotinoids has led to a sharp increase in their use in the United States and globally, since they were first introduced in 1994. The use of the neonicotinoid...

Date published: March 17, 2017
Status: Active

Assessing Toxicogenomics Effects of a Synthetic Androgen on Japanese Quail and the Development of an Avian Vitellogenesis Model

The Challenge: Endocrine active chemicals (EAC) are known to interfere with hormonally regulated physiological processes, thereby affecting signaling in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal-liver (HPGL) axis and commonly resulting in reproductive dysfunction. Computational models that relate hormonal and genomic biomarkers within the HPGL axis to the reproductive cycle and ecologically relevant...

Date published: March 16, 2017
Status: Active

The Role of Japanese Quail in Ecotoxicology

The Challenge: Wild birds are exposed throughout their lives to natural and synthetic chemicals that are present in the environment, many of which interfere with the animal’s physiological and developmental systems. Relative concentrations, routes, frequency, and the environment in which chemical exposure occurs will determine to a large extent the bird’s response. Well-designed avian field...

Date published: March 15, 2017
Status: Active

Identifying the Genetic Basis of Avian Susceptibility to Mercury

The Challenge: Mercury is a highly toxic element found throughout our environment. Although it occurs naturally in some environments, human industrial pollution has greatly increased the amount of mercury and the range of environments in which mercury is found. Recent studies have confirmed clear differences in the sensitivity of various bird species to methylmercury. Because the causes of...

Date published: March 14, 2017
Status: Active

Effects of Short Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) on developing birds

The Challenge: Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) are complex technical mixtures of polychlorinated n-alkanes used in lubricants and coolants in metalworking, as flame retardants, and in paints, adhesives, sealants, textiles and polymeric materials, plastics and rubber. SCCPs are of concern because they are globally transported, bioaccumulate in wildlife and humans, and are...

Filter Total Items: 2,467
Year Published: 2016

Nitrapyrin in streams: The first study documenting off-field transport of a nitrogen stabilizer compound

Nitrapyrin is a bactericide that is co-applied with fertilizer to prevent nitrification and enhance corn yields. While there have been studies of the environmental fate of nitrapyrin, there is no documentation of its off-field transport to streams. In 2016, 59 water samples from 11 streams across Iowa were analyzed for nitrapyrin and its degradate...

Woodward, Emily; Hladik, Michelle; Kolpin, Dana W.
Woodward, E.E., Hladik, M.L., Kolpin, D.W., 2016, Nitrapyrin in streams: The first study documenting off-field transport of a nitrogen stabilizer compound. Environ. Sci. Technol. Letters, v. 3, no. 11, p. 387-392, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00348 Publication Date (Web): October 6, 2016

Year Published: 2016

Occurrence of triclocarban and triclosan in an agro-ecosystem following application of biosolids

Triclocarban (TCC) and triclosan (TCS), two of the most commonly used antimicrobial compounds, can be introduced into ecosystems by applying wastewater treatment plant biosolids to agricultural fields. Concentrations of TCC and TCS were measured in different trophic levels within a terrestrial food web encompassing land-applied biosolids, soil,...

Sherburne, Jessica J.; Anaya, Amanda M.; Fernie, Kimberly J.; Forbey, Jennifer S.; Furlong, Edward T.; Kolpin, Dana W.; Dufty, Alfred M.; Kinney, Chad A.
Sherburne, J.J., Anaya, A.M., Fernie, K.J., Forbey, J.S., Furlong, E.T., Kolpin, D.W., Dufty, A.M., Kinney, C.A. 2016. Occurrence of triclocarban and triclosan in an agro-ecosystem following application of biosolids. Environ. Sci. Technol. v. 50, p. 13206-13217. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b01834

Year Published: 2016

Prediction of fish and sediment mercury in streams using landscape variables and historical mining

Widespread mercury (Hg) contamination of aquatic systems in the Sierra Nevada of California, U.S., is associated with historical use to enhance gold (Au) recovery by amalgamation. In areas affected by historical Au mining operations, including the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and downstream areas in northern California, such as San Francisco...

Alpers, Charles N.; Yee, Julie L.; Ackerman, Joshua T.; Orlando, James L. ; Slotton, Darrell G.; Marvin-DiPasquale, Mark C.
Alpers, C.N., Yee, J.L., Ackerman, J.T., Orlando, J.L., Slotton, D.G., and Marvin-DiPasquale, M.C., 2016, Prediction of fish and sediment mercury in streams using landscape variables and historical mining: Science of the Total Environment, v. 571 (15 November 2016), p. 364-379, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.05.088.

Year Published: 2016

Statistical comparison of methods for estimating sediment thickness from Horizontal-to-Vertical Spectral Ratio (HVSR) seismic methods: An example from Tylerville, Connecticut, USA

Determining sediment thickness and delineating bedrock topography are important for assessing groundwater availability and characterizing contamination sites. In recent years, the horizontal-to-vertical spectral ratio (HVSR) seismic method has emerged as a non-invasive, cost-effective approach for estimating the thickness of unconsolidated...

Johnson, Carole D.; Lane, John W.

Year Published: 2016

Aqueous exposure to the progestin, levonorgestrel, alters anal fin development and reproductive behavior in the eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)

Endogenous progestogens are important regulators of vertebrate reproduction. Synthetic progestins are components of human contraceptive and hormone replacement pharmaceuticals. Both progestogens and progestins enter the environment through a number of sources, and have been shown to cause profound effects on reproductive health in various aquatic...

Frankel, Tyler E.; Meyer, Michael T.; Orlando, Edward F.

Year Published: 2016

Transcriptome discovery in non-model wild fish species for the development of quantitative transcript abundance assays

Environmental studies increasingly identify the presence of both contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and legacy contaminants in aquatic environments; however, the biological effects of these compounds on resident fishes remain largely unknown. High throughput methodologies were employed to establish partial transcriptomes for three wild-caught...

Hahn, Cassidy M.; Iwanowicz, Luke R.; Cornman, Robert S.; Mazik, Patricia M.; Blazer, Vicki S.
Hahn, C.M, L. R. Iwanowicz, V.S. Blazer, Heather L. Walsh, Ryan P. Braham and P. Mazik. (2016) Transcriptome Discovery in Non-Model Wild Fish Species for the Development of Quantitative Transcript Abundance Assays. Fish Physiology and Biochemistry Part D: Genomics and Proteomics. 20: 27-40.

Year Published: 2016

Bounded fractional diffusion in geological media: Definition and Lagrangian approximation

Spatiotemporal Fractional-Derivative Models (FDMs) have been increasingly used to simulate non-Fickian diffusion, but methods have not been available to define boundary conditions for FDMs in bounded domains. This study defines boundary conditions and then develops a Lagrangian solver to approximate bounded, one-dimensional fractional diffusion....

Zhang, Yong; Green, Christopher T.; LaBolle, Eric M.; Neupauer, Roseanna M.; Sun, HongGuang
Zhang, Y, C.T. Green, E.M. LaBolle, R.M. Neupauer, ,and H.G. Sun, 2016, Bounded fractional diffusion in geological media: Definition and Lagrangian approximation, Water Resources Research, DOI: 10.1002/2016WR019178

Year Published: 2016

Deposition, accumulation, and alteration of Cl−, NO3−, ClO4− and ClO3− salts in a hyper-arid polar environment: Mass balance and isotopic constraints

The salt fraction in permafrost soils/sediments of the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDV) of Antarctica can be used as a proxy for cold desert geochemical processes and paleoclimate reconstruction. Previous analyses of the salt fraction in MDV permafrost soils have largely been conducted in coastal regions where permafrost soils are variably affected by...

Jackson, Andrew; Davila, Alfonso F.; Böhlke, John Karl; Sturchio, Neil C.; Sevanthi, Ritesh; Estrada, Nubia; Brundrett, Maeghan; Lacelle, Denis; McKay, Christopher P.; Poghosyan, Armen; Pollard, Wayne; Zacny, Kris

Year Published: 2016

Low-cost floating emergence net and bottle trap: Comparison of two designs

Sampling emergent aquatic insects is of interest to many freshwater ecologists. Many quantitative emergence traps require the use of aspiration for collection. However, aspiration is infeasible in studies with large amounts of replication that is often required in large biomonitoring projects. We designed an economic, collapsible pyramid-shaped...

Cadmus, Pete; Pomeranz, Justin; Kraus, Johanna M.

Year Published: 2016

A downstream voyage with mercury

Retrospective essay for the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.As I look back on my paper, “Effects of Low Dietary Levels of Methyl Mercury on Mallard Reproduction,” published in 1974 in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, a thought sticks in my mind. I realize just how much my mercury research was not...

Heinz, Gary
Heinz, G. H., 2016, A Downstream Voyage with Mercury: Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, v. 97, no. 5, p. 591-592.

Year Published: 2016

Alternative approaches to vertebrate ecotoxicity tests in the 21st century: A review of developments over the last 2 decades and current status

The need for alternative approaches to the use of vertebrate animals for hazard assessment of chemicals and pollutants has become of increasing importance. It is now the first consideration when initiating a vertebrate ecotoxicity test, to ensure that unnecessary use of vertebrate organisms is minimized wherever possible. For some regulatory...

Lillicrap, Adam; Belanger, Scott; Burden, Natalie; Du Pasquier, David; Embry, Michelle; Halder, Marlies; Lampi, Mark; Lee, Lucy; Norberg-King, Teresa J.; Rattner, Barnett A.; Schirmer, Kristin; Thomas, Paul
Lillicrap, A., Belanger, S., Burden, N., Du Pasquier, D., Embry, M. R., Halder, M., Lampi, M. A., Lee, L., Norberg-King, T., Rattner, B. A., Schirmer, K., and Thomas, P., 2016, Alternative approaches to vertebrate ecotoxicity tests in the 21st century: A review of developments over the last 2 decades and current status: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 35, no. 11, p. 2637-2646.

Year Published: 2016

Optimization of a sample processing protocol for recovery of Bacillus anthracis spores from soil

Following a release of Bacillus anthracis spores into the environment, there is a potential for lasting environmental contamination in soils. There is a need for detection protocols for B. anthracis in environmental matrices. However, identification of B. anthracis within a soil is a difficult task. Processing soil samples helps to remove debris,...

Silvestri, Erin E.; Feldhake, David; Griffin, Dale; Lisle, John T.; Nichols, Tonya L.; Shah, Sanjiv; Pemberton, A; Schaefer III, Frank W
Silvestri, E.E., Feldhake, D., Griffin, D., Lisle, J., Nichols, T.L., Shah, S.R., Pemberton, A., Schaefer III, F.W., 2016, Journal of Microbiological Methods, v. 130, pp. 6-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mimet.2016.08.013

Filter Total Items: 153
Pollen samples from various plants collected from hedgerows
December 31, 2017

Pollen samples from various plants collected from hedgerows

Organic Chemistry Research Laboratory -- Sacramento, California. Small sample bottles with pollen inside

A saltwater tracer was injected into the shallow aquifer at a uranium-contaminated site in Colorado
December 31, 2017

A saltwater tracer was injected into the shallow aquifer

Hydrogeophysics Laboratory — Storrs, Connecticut. A saltwater tracer was injected into the shallow aquifer at a uranium-contaminated site in Colorado and monitored for 28 days using a combination of geophysical and well-sampling arrays; the sampling array is marked by the white standpipes adjacent to the central injection tank.

United States occurrence of microcystins in lakes in the contiguous 48 U.S. states
December 31, 2017

Occurrence of microcystins in lakes in the contiguous US 48 states

United States occurrence of microcystins in lakes in the contiguous 48 U.S. states categorized by World Health Organization relative probable health risk. WHO low, moderate, and high refer to the relative human recreational health thresholds for microcystin exposure. Map not shown to scale. Modified from figure 2 from

Cafo hogs
December 31, 2017

Cafo hogs

Cafo hogs taken by Kent Becker, unknown.

Scientist preparing samples in a laboratory
October 11, 2017

USGS Scientist Preparing Samples in a Laboratory

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist preparing samples for analysis of protein levels to normalize results from oxidative stress bioassays.

Lake Erie algal bloom
September 30, 2017

Lake Erie algal bloom

Landsat satellites captured this image of Lake Erie during a harmful algal bloom event.

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

Microscopic video imaging is used for computerized analysis of sperm motility parameters
September 20, 2017

Microscopic video imaging is used for computerized analysis of sperm m

Photomicroscopy and Flow Cytometry Laboratory — Lafayette, Louisiana. Microscopic video imaging is used for computerized analysis of sperm motility parameters

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) microbiologist prepares a water sample for enterococci testing
September 13, 2017

A U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) microbiologist prepares a water sample

Michigan Bacteriological Research Laboratory — Lansing, Michigan. A microbiologist preparing a water sample

July 31, 2017

A Current Immersion

Curt Storlazzi of the USGS explains how the water cycle pulled him into oceanography, and how his personal interests parallel his profession.

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.

July 6, 2017

Wildlife on the Nevada National Security Site

Mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, and a variety of other wildlife live on and pass through the Nevada National Security Site each day. It’s a highly restricted area that is free of hunting and has surprisingly pristine areas.This 22-minute program highlights an extraordinary study on how mountain lions interact with their prey. It shows how the scientists


In addition to news releases on our latest papers, we provide Science Feature Articles that highlight results from environmental health science activities across the U.S. Geological Survey.

See Our Science Feature Articles
Filter Total Items: 69
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 11, 2015

The Chemistry of Waters that Follow from Fracking: A Case Study

In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well.

Date published: May 1, 2015

Dam Removal Study Reveals River Resiliency

SEATTLE, Wash. — More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published today in Science finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed.

Date published: April 13, 2015

Coal-Tar-Sealant Runoff Causes Toxicity and DNA Damage

Runoff from pavement with coal-tar-based sealant is toxic to aquatic life, damages DNA, and impairs DNA repair, according to two studies by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and Science of the Total Environment.

Date published: April 7, 2015

Multiple Satellite Eyes to Track Algal Threat to U.S. Freshwater

Four federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces in an effort to transform satellite data into vital information to protect the American public from freshwater contaminated by harmful algal blooms.

Date published: April 1, 2015

USGS Releases Online Tool for Estimating Atrazine Levels in Streams and Rivers

A new online, interactive tool for estimating atrazine concentrations in streams and rivers is now available.

Date published: March 24, 2015

Laboratory Study Shows Future Generations of Fish Affected by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure

Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri.

Date published: February 2, 2015

President’s 2016 Budget Proposes $1.2 Billion for the USGS

The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey is $1.2 billion, an increase of nearly $150 million above the FY 2015 enacted level.

Date published: February 2, 2015

What’s Being Done to Protect the Great Lakes?

New and improved science tools can help managers and researchers evaluate current threats and develop management strategies to protect and restore the valuable Great Lakes ecosystem.

Date published: January 26, 2015

Natural Breakdown of Petroleum Underground Can Lace Arsenic into Groundwater

In a long-term field study, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Virginia Tech scientists have found that changes in geochemistry from the natural breakdown of petroleum hydrocarbons underground can promote the chemical release (mobilization) of naturally occurring arsenic into groundwater. This geochemical change can result in potentially significant arsenic groundwater contamination.

Date published: December 15, 2014

Urban Stream Contamination Increasing Rapidly Due to Road Salt

Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

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