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The U.S. Geological Survey Environmental Health Mission Area works to safeguard the Nation’s health, economy, and resources by leading science to understand and minimize exposures to toxicological and infectious disease agents in the environment.

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Science Feature Articles

Our Science Feature Articles highlight recent USGS environmental health science activities.

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USGS GeoHealth Newsletter

USGS GeoHealth Newsletter

The GeoHealth Newsletter provides information on new USGS environmental health science activities related to safeguarding the health of the environment, fish and wildlife, domesticated animals, and people.

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News

Image shows varying pigment levels from a satellite perspective of lakes in the United States
June 19, 2017

A joint collaboration between EPA, NOAA, NASA, and USGS scientists has demonstrated that satellite imagery can be used to track the frequency of harmful algal blooms.  The satellites can accomplish this by measuring certain algal pigments in the water.

Image: Vegetation Drought
June 5, 2017

The U. S. Geological Survey is poised to bring a dynamic array of science and tools to help decision-makers manage and offset effects of increased drought across the United States, according to a drought plan report released today.

Prescribed Burn at Tall Timbers Research Station
May 24, 2017

U.S. Geological Survey scientists and partners are taking technology to the next level, using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to acquire both fire intensity and emissions data during prescribed burns.

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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Neonicotinoid pesticides act as agonists of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
March 21, 2017

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...

Dye deposition in yolk over time
March 17, 2017

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...

Subadult Japanese quail
March 16, 2017

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-...

Laughing gull (Larus atricilla)
March 15, 2017

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...

Short-Chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs)
March 14, 2017

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...

Avian egg injection
March 13, 2017

The Challenge: The use of flame retardants (FRs) as additives in a variety of consumer use products, including plastics, textiles, and electronics, is projected to continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Because of unanticipated environmental problems, some FRs have either been banned, restricted, or are being phased-out and replaced by other new and presumably safer FRs. Regrettably...

Radiograph illustrating soy bean seeds in crop and gastrointestinal tract
January 25, 2017

The Challenge: Neonicotinoids are now the most widely applied class of insecticides in the United States, and are predominantly used in the form of seed treatments. Compared to invertebrates, neonicotinoids are less toxic to wildlife, although genotoxic, cytotoxic, immunological, behavioral and reproductive effects have been reported in studies with birds. At present, little is known...

Eisenoides lonnbergi, a native earthworm, found to contain extremely high concentrations of lead
January 25, 2017

The Challenge: As a rule, plants and animals contain lower concentrations of lead than are present in soils that support them. Lead does not biomagnify along trophic levels in ecosystems but instead remains relatively immobile in soil. The exposure of wildlife to soil lead depends mainly on the incidental ingestion of soil. The native earthworm, Eisenoides lonnbergi, is anomalous in its...

a specimen found on a rock in the river
December 19, 2016

Although there are ways of developing causal relationships between stressors and aquatic community responses without experimentation; some argue that experimental manipulation under controlled conditions is both critical and necessary to establish causation. Single species toxicity tests are the gold standard for developing toxicant biological response relationships however these tests are...

Black-tailed prairie dog mortality
December 19, 2016

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...

Glacier Bay National Park
October 26, 2016

Human dimensions in the context of natural resource management refers to the ways humans value natural resources, resource management preferences, and how humans affect or are affected by natural resource management decisions. Natural resource management and policy decisionmaking require incorporation of sound biological, social, and economic science. SEA scientists...

Osprey Fledglings still in the nest
September 19, 2016

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...

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Screen capture of the The SCoRR Mapping Application
March 15, 2016

The Sediment-bound Contaminant Resiliency and Response (SCoRR) Mapping Application was developed to allow users to visualize and view information generated during this study. Additional datasets including Census data, the National Land Cover Database, and National Hydrography data are also provided for users to generate custom maps.

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Year Published: 2016

Geologic materials and human health: Chapter 5.14

No abstract available.

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Morman, Suzette A.
IP-072283 Plumlee, G.S., and Morman, S.A., 2016, Geologic materials and human health: The Geoscience Handbook 2016—AGI Data Sheets, Fifth Edition, American Geosciences Institute, p. 78-80.

Year Published: 2014

Family inspiration for my career(s) in transdisciplinary science

I have been fortunate to spend the last 31 years working for an organization that has allowed me to make multiple career shifts across earth science disciplines and to collaborate with people in fields well beyond the earth sciences. Many inspirational colleagues have guided me along this transdisciplinary science path, but perhaps my biggest...

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.
Plumlee, G.S., 2014, Family inspiration for my career(s) in transdisciplinary science. Earth Magazine, December, p. 38-39.

Year Published: 2013

Energy and Minerals Science at the U.S. Geological Survey

The economy, national security, and standard of living of the United States depend on adequate and reliable supplies of energy and mineral resources. Based on population and consumption trends, the Nation’s and World’s use of energy and minerals is expected to grow, driving the demand for scientific understanding of resource formation, location,...

Ferrero, Richard C.; Kolak, Jonathan J.; Bills, Donald J.; Bowen, Zachary H.; Cordier, Daniel J.; Gallegos, Tanya J.; Hein, James R.; Kelley, Karen D.; Nelson, Philip H.; Nuccio, Vito F.; Schmidt, Jeanine M.; Seal, Robert R., II
Energy and Minerals Science at the U.S. Geological Survey; 2013; FS; 2013-3111; Ferrero, Richard C.; Kolak, Jonathan J.; Bills, Donald J.; Bowen, Zachary H.; Cordier, Daniel J.; Gallegos, Tanya J.; Hein, James R.; Kelley, Karen D.; Nelson, Philip H.; Nuccio, Vito F.; Schmidt, Jeanine M.; Seal, Robert R.

Year Published: 2013

Water quality, sediment characteristics, aquatic habitat, geomorphology, and mussel population status of the Clinch River, Virginia and Tennessee, 2009-2011

Chemical, physical, and biological data were collected during 2009-2011 as part of a study of the Clinch River in Virginia and Tennessee. The data from this study, data-collection methods, and laboratory analytical methods used in the study are documented in this report. The study was conducted to describe the conditions of the Clinch River and to...

Krstolic, Jennifer L.; Johnson, Gregory C.; Ostby, Brett J.K.
Water quality, sediment characteristics, aquatic habitat, geomorphology, and mussel population status of the Clinch River, Virginia and Tennessee, 2009-2011; 2013; DS; 802; Krstolic, Jennifer L; Johnson, Gregory C; Ostby, Brett J. K.

Year Published: 2013

Meeting the Science Needs of the Nation in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy-- A U.S. Geological Survey Science Plan for Support of Restoration and Recovery

n late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy came ashore during a spring high tide on the New Jersey coastline, delivering hurricane-force winds, storm tides exceeding 19 feet, driving rain, and plummeting temperatures. Hurricane Sandy resulted in 72 direct fatalities in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States, and widespread and substantial...

Buxton, Herbert T.; Andersen, Matthew E.; Focazio, Michael J.; Haines, John W.; Hainly, Robert A.; Hippe, Daniel J.; Sugarbaker, Larry J.
Meeting the Science Needs of the Nation in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy-- A U.S. Geological Survey Science Plan for Support of Restoration and Recovery; 2013; CIR; 1390; Buxton, Herbert T.; Andersen, Matthew E.; Focazio, Michael J.; Haines, John W.; Hainly, Hippe, Daniel J.; Sugarbaker, Larry J.

Year Published: 2013

Environmental health science at the U.S. Geological Survey

USGS environmental health science focuses on the environment-health interface. Research characterizes the processes that affect the interaction among the physical environment, the living environment, and people, as well as the factors that affect ecological and human exposure to disease agents and the resulting toxicologic or infectious disease....

Buxton, Herbert T.; Bright, Patricia R.
Environmental health science at the U.S. Geological Survey; 2013; FS; 2012-3142; Buxton, Herbert T.; Bright, Patricia R.

Year Published: 2013

The role of airborne mineral dusts in human disease

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) is generally acknowledged to increase risk for human morbidity and mortality. However, particulate matter (PM) research has generally examined anthropogenic (industry and combustion by-products) sources with few studies considering contributions from geogenic PM (produced from the Earth by natural processes...

Morman, Suzette A.; Plumlee, Geoffrey S.
Suzette A. Morman, Geoffrey S. Plumlee, The role of airborne mineral dusts in human disease, Aeolian Research, Volume 9, 2013, Pages 203-212.

Year Published: 2011

Review of samples of water, sediment, tailings, and biota at the Little Bonanza mercury mine, San Luis Obispo County, California

Background and Objectives The Little Bonanza mercury (Hg) mine, located in San Luis Obispo County, California, is a relatively small mine with, a historical total Hg production of about 1,000 flasks. The mine workings and tailings are located in the headwaters of the previously unnamed west fork of Las Tablas Creek (WF Las Tablas Creek), which...

Rytuba, James J.; Hothem, Roger L.; Goldstein, Daniel N.; Brussee, Brianne E.; May, Jason T.
Review of samples of water, sediment, tailings, and biota at the Little Bonanza mercury mine, San Luis Obispo County, California; 2011; OFR; 2011-1122; Rytuba, James J.; Hothem, Roger L,; Goldstein, Daniel N.; Brussee, Brianne E.; May, Jason T.

Year Published: 2010

Geologic map of the Sand Creek Pass quadrangle, Larimer County, Colorado, and Albany County, Wyoming

New geologic mapping within the Sand Creek Pass 7.5 minute quadrangle defines geologic relationships within the northern Front Range of Colorado along the Wyoming border approximately 35 km south of Laramie, Wyo. Previous mapping within the quadrangle was limited to regional reconnaissance mapping; Eaton Reservoir 7.5 minute quadrangle to the east...

Workman, Jeremiah B.; Braddock, William A.
Geologic map of the Sand Creek Pass quadrangle, Larimer County, Colorado, and Albany County, Wyoming; 2010; SIM; 3133; Workman, Jeremiah B.; Braddock, William A.

Year Published: 2010

Digital tabulation of stratigraphic data from oil and gas wells in the Santa Maria Basin and surrounding areas, central California coast

Stratigraphic information from 694 oil and gas exploration wells from the onshore Santa Maria basin and surrounding areas are herein compiled in digital form from reports that were released originally in paper form. The Santa Maria basin is located within the southwesternmost part of the Coast Ranges and north of the western Transverse Ranges on...

Sweetkind, Donald S.; Tennyson, Marilyn E.; Langenheim, V.E.; Shumaker, Lauren E.
Digital tabulation of stratigraphic data from oil and gas wells in the Santa Maria Basin and surrounding areas, central California coast; 2010; OFR; 2010-1129; Sweetkind, Donald S.; Tennyson, Marilyn E.; Langenheim, Victoria E.; Shumaker, Lauren E.

Year Published: 2010

Three-dimensional geologic model of the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer, south-central Oklahoma

The Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer of south-central Oklahoma encompasses more than 850 square kilometers and is the principal water resource for south-central Oklahoma. Rock units comprising the aquifer are characterized by limestone, dolomite, and sandstones assigned to two lower Paleozoic units: the Arbuckle and Simpson Groups. Also considered to be...

Faith, Jason R.; Blome, Charles D.; Pantea, Michael P.; Puckette, James O.; Halihan, Todd; Osborn, Noel; Christenson, Scott; Pack, Skip
Three-dimensional geologic model of the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer, south-central Oklahoma; 2010; OFR; 2010-1123; Faith, Jason R.; Blome, Charles D.; Pantea, Michael P.; Puckette, James O.; Halihan, Todd; Osborn, Noel; Christenson, Scott; Pack, Skip

Year Published: 2010

A Review of Aeromagnetic Anomalies in the Sawatch Range, Central Colorado

This report contains digital data and image files of aeromagnetic anomalies in the Sawatch Range of central Colorado. The primary product is a data layer of polygons with linked data records that summarize previous interpretations of aeromagnetic anomalies in this region. None of these data files and images are new; rather, they are presented in...

Bankey, Viki
A Review of Aeromagnetic Anomalies in the Sawatch Range, Central Colorado; 2010; OFR; 2010-1095; Bankey, Viki

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Hydrologists doing field work near Farmington, NM
June 20, 2017
USGS NMWSC Hydrologists Johanna Blake and Jeb Brown attended the 2nd Annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and other Mine Waste Issues in Farmington, NM from June 20-21. Johanna and Jeb presented on the USGS long-term monitoring work of continuous monitoring sondes, water quality, and sediment measurement. On June 22nd...
April 27, 2017
Corrosive groundwater, if untreated, can dissolve lead and other metals from pipes. National maps have been prepared to identify the occurrence of potentially corrosive groundwater in the U.S. These findings have the greatest implication for the 44 million people dependent on domestic wells for drinking water.
April 19, 2017
See the actual drone footage at: https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/prescribed-burn-tall-timbers-research-... Footage of drone during a prescribed fire at Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida (April 19, 2017).
2016 (approx.)
The Avian Influenza Transmission Risk Model web application depicts the intricate connections between 16 layers of administrative, environmental, and economic data in an application that runs inside a web browser. To view and manipulate the full web application, please visit http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/ai . The full web application requires a web browser with a large amount of memory available. This...
2016 (approx.)
For more information on the movement of wild birds in Asia and how this relates to avian influenza viruses, see http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/ai . The autumn migration routes of bar-headed geese captured before the 2008 breeding season at Qinghai Lake, China, were documented using satellite tracking data. Our results showed that there were four typical migration routes in autumn with variation in...
2016 (approx.)
For more information on avian influenza, see http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/ai . Two currently circulating avian influenza viruses, highly pathogenic A(H5N1) and low pathogenic A(H7N9) (hereafter H5N1 and H7N9) are of particular concern due to their high case-fatality rates (approximately 60 and 30% currently), and economic impact to the livestock industry and public health system. H5N1 first emerged...
Scientists Andrew Ramey, Bjorn Olsen, and Jonas Bonnedahl (L to R) setting a trap for gulls at the Soldotna landfill in 2016.
2016 (approx.)
Scientists Andrew Ramey, Bjorn Olsen, and Jonas Bonnedahl (L to R) setting a trap for gulls at the Soldotna landfill in June 2016.
Gulls using beach at the mouth of Kenai River during the personal use dipnet fishery for sockeye salmon.
2016 (approx.)
Gulls using beach at the mouth of Kenai River during the personal use dipnet fishery for sockeye salmon; photo taken during sampling trip in July 2016.
John Reed (USGS scientist) holding a gull marked with a satellite transmitter at the Soldotna landfill in June 2016
2016 (approx.)
John Reed (USGS scientist) holding a gull marked with a satellite transmitter at the Soldotna landfill in June 2016.
June 15, 2016
What inspired a USGS geologist to study how dam removal changes rivers. Profile of Amy East.
View of Old Mans Creek near Iowa City, Iowa
2016 (approx.)
View of Old Mans Creek near Iowa City, Iowa upstream from a bridge used for collecting water-quality samples (USGS Site ID: 05455100 ). This site was part of the sampling network for the first reconnaissance study to assess potential off-field transport of nitrapyrin (a bactericide) to streams .

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
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Image shows varying pigment levels from a satellite perspective of lakes in the United States
June 19, 2017

A joint collaboration between EPA, NOAA, NASA, and USGS scientists has demonstrated that satellite imagery can be used to track the frequency of harmful algal blooms.  The satellites can accomplish this by measuring certain algal pigments in the water.

Image: Vegetation Drought
June 5, 2017

The U. S. Geological Survey is poised to bring a dynamic array of science and tools to help decision-makers manage and offset effects of increased drought across the United States, according to a drought plan report released today.

Prescribed Burn at Tall Timbers Research Station
May 24, 2017

U.S. Geological Survey scientists and partners are taking technology to the next level, using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to acquire both fire intensity and emissions data during prescribed burns.

Dr. Christian Zimmerman, USGS Alaska Science Center Director
February 1, 2017

The U.S. Geological Survey is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Christian Zimmerman as the new director of their Alaska Science Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Zimmerman succeeds Dr. Mark Shasby who held the position for the past six years.

This picture was taken June 23, 2010 along the Louisiana shoreline in Barataria Bay and shows oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon
November 17, 2016

A new USGS-NASA study found widespread shoreline loss along heavily oiled areas of Louisiana's coast after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and compared the erosion from the spill with coastal changes Hurricane Isaac caused in 2012.

Cyanobacterial bloom in Lake Okeechobee, FL (July 2016)
October 24, 2016

Building knowledge to protect ecological and human health

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October 3, 2016

As coastal development along the Gulf Coast continues to expand, tidal saline wetlands could have difficulty adjusting to rising sea levels.

Scientists Andrew Ramey, Bjorn Olsen, and Jonas Bonnedahl (L to R) setting a trap for gulls at the Soldotna landfill in 2016.
September 26, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Some gulls in southcentral Alaska are carriers of antibiotic resistant strains of E. coli, according to a new study co-authored by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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