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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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Sampling for aquatic invasive species in the Greater Yellowstone Area.
November 8, 2016

Studies on the aquatic food web, tree swallows, and the spread of contaminants take center stage at SETAC 2016.

Image shows small insects on a rock in a white plastic bucket
October 21, 2016

Environmental Ratios of Cadmium and Zinc are less Toxic to Aquatic Insects than Expected

Vegetation patterns affect both soil moisture and the amount of sunlight that reaches the soil.
September 14, 2016

Mercury contamination is widespread, at various levels across western North America in air, soil, sediment, plants, fish and wildlife.

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
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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...

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...

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
September 19, 2016

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...

Vultures unintentionally ingested diclofenac when scavenging livestock treated shortly before death.
September 19, 2016

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...

Whole Wildlife Toxicology Catalog
September 19, 2016

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...

Study of toxicity of PBDE flame retardants in various bird embryos
September 19, 2016

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...

Contaminant Exposure and Effects—Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) Database Homepage
September 19, 2016

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,...

Poudre River looking upstream.
August 12, 2016

Water quality and aquatic life standards that are set by Federal and state regulatory agencies are used to evaluate the quality of our nation’s water and the health of aquatic ecosystems. These standards currently are based on hardness of the water and are determined for single metals, not for mixtures of metals that are typically found in natural systems. Metal mixtures can...

Grand Canyon, Arizona as seen from Desert View Point on the South Rim.
July 1, 2016

The use of uranium is an alternative energy source to petroleum products and some of the United States’ highest quality ore is located on the Colorado Plateau. However, some regions where suitable mining efforts are conducted include areas that are near important environmental resources such as National Parks that provide viewscapes and habitat for wildlife....

An elk grazes in Yellowstone National Park.
June 6, 2016

Brucellosis, a bacterial disease caused by B. abortus, affects bison, cattle and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), and the GYE is the last reservoir of infection in the United States. Roughly 40% of the Yellowstone NP bison population was permanently removed in 2008 for disease control purposes. Despite the extensive management of bison, cattle herds in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana...

Elk on a feedground in Wyoming.
May 11, 2016

Disease researchers often assume that increased densities translate into increased contact rates, and as a result increased transmission. By the same logic, reducing host densities may be a useful management tool. Our work suggests a slightly different perspective is necessary. When host density and transmission fluctuate over time, transmission is likely to be more related to the cumulative...

The USGS Contaminant Biology Program publishes the results of its investigations in journal articles, fact sheets, USGS reports, and on the Web.

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A component-resampling approach for estimating probability distributions from small forecast ensembles
Year Published: 2006

A component-resampling approach for estimating probability distributions from small forecast ensembles

In many meteorological and climatological modeling applications, the availability of ensembles of predictions containing very large numbers of members would substantially ease statistical analyses and validations. This study describes and demonstrates an objective approach for generating large ensembles of "additional" realizations from smaller...

Dettinger, M.
A component-resampling approach for estimating probability distributions from small forecast ensembles; 2006; Article; Journal; Climatic Change; Dettinger, M.
Environmental toxicology and risk assessment
Year Published: 1998

Environmental toxicology and risk assessment

Little, Edward E.; Greenberg, Bruce M.; DeLonay, Aaron J.
Environmental toxicology and risk assessment; 1998; Conference publication; 1333; edited by Little, Edward E.; Greenberg, Bruce M.; DeLonay, Aaron J.
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larval mussels
October 26, 2013

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) Columbia Environmental Research Center's Fish and Invertebrate Toxicology Branch.

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

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 that fish diets can switch from aquatic to terrestrial insects in streams effected by metal contamination.

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 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 in Chesapeake Bay. Changes in the regulation and use of some organic chemicals have caused environmental concentrations to stabilize or decline during the past 35 years coincident with a rebound in the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) population of the Chesapeake Bay.

A tree swallow - Tachycineta bicolor
May 16, 2011

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 and brominated flame retardants.

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

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 scientists. This newly discovered virus is in the family Hepadnaviridae, which include similar viruses in mammals and birds. In mammals, including humans, these viruses are typically associated with liver diseases including fibrosis, cirrhosis, and cancer. Human hepatitis B virus has a specific protein that is associated with cancer induction, and this tumor-associated protein is not present in the new hepatitis B virus isolated from white suckers.

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

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 science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Dr. Prosser was recognized for her scientific leadership in developing an international interdisciplinary program to understand the role of wild birds in the spread of lethal avian influenza viruses, and for exceptional outreach to the public and mentoring at the high school through postdoctoral levels.

cientists collecting bed-sediment samples from Suwanee Creek, Georgia
May 23, 2007

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists collecting bed-sediment samples from Suwanee Creek, Gwinnett County, Georgia, on May 23, 2007. 

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

See Our Science Feature Articles
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Image shows a fish in a tank beneath a half-circle shelter
July 11, 2016

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

Image shows a map with an aerial image of the study site beneath it
May 9, 2016

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.

Image: Chesapeake Bay osprey chicks mostly healthy despite toxic exposure
April 4, 2016

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.

Scientists preparing sediment quality sampling supplies for deployment in advance of Hurricane Joaquin.
December 18, 2015

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

Map of the Glen Canyon Dam study area
August 19, 2015

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 science for a changing world logo
August 18, 2015

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.

USGS logo
May 29, 2014

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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