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: 36
USGS Mobile Atmospheric Mercury Laboratory
Date Published: April 19, 2016

This investigation focuses on understanding mercury sources, pathways and key processes in the environment, with particular emphasis on mercury methylation and accumulation in aquatic ecosystems.

USGS scientists collecting gas samples from the unsaturated zone.
Date Published: April 19, 2016

The objective of research at the Amargosa Desert Research Site, Nevada, is to improve understanding of processes controlling the migration and fate of contaminants in arid environments, and the environmental-health implications of disposed radioactive and industrial waste.

Four sample bottels filled with leachate
Date Published: April 19, 2016

The USGS is conducting source-to-receptor research on a broad range of chemical and microbial contaminants including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pathogens, antibiotic resistant genes, and natural toxins that are not commonly considered in environmental research but have the potential to impact environmental health.

USGS Scientist collecting water samples in a stream
Date Published: April 19, 2016

The USGS is investigating the occurrence and environmental effects of complex mixtures of both natural and man-made chemicals in environmental waters.

USGS scientists collecting a water sample from a well at the USGS Bemidji Research Site
Date Published: April 19, 2016

This investigation focuses on the long-term persistence in soils and groundwater of petroleum hydrocarbon spills, including crude oil and refined petroleum fuels. The study site near Bemidji, MN, is a laboratory for developing site assessment tools and understanding chemical changes affecting human and environmental health that occur during natural attenuation of petroleum hydrocarbons.

USGS scientist with equipment used to inject fluids for a bioaugmentation experiment
Date Published: April 19, 2016

The USGS is investigating the hydrological, geochemical, and microbiological processes controlling contaminant fate in fractured-rock aquifers. Long-term field experiments are currently conducted at a former aircraft engine test facility in West Trenton, New Jersey, where high concentrations of trichloroethene persist in sedimentary rocks despite two decades of groundwater pumping and...

Rainwater Killifish (Lucania parva)
Date Published: April 18, 2016

As part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, water managers are planning to use treated wastewater from the South District Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) to supplement the canal waters that will be used to rehydrate wetlands adjacent to the Biscayne National Park (Park).

Detritus sampling from coral reef - WARC
Date Published: March 10, 2016

Coral reefs around the world are exposed to a number of environmental contaminants. USGS researchers investigate the issue of contamination on the reefs around the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) in Tanks - WARC
Date Published: February 25, 2016

USGS researchers investigate the effects of methylmercury contamination on reproduction of the Eastern mosquitofish, a common fish in South Florida.

Rainwater Killifish (Lucania parva) - WARC
Date Published: February 23, 2016

Baseline Aquatic Contamination and Endocrine Status in Resident Fish Populations of Biscayne National Park and in the Adjacent Coastal Environment

Evaluating the Prevalence of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, in the Southeastern U.S.: Any Evidenc
Date Published: April 17, 2015

Pathogens and infectious disease play a role in some recent species extinctions and are likely to impact biodiversity in the future. Environmental DNA - eDNA - is coupled with traditional amphibian sampling methods to determine the distribution and prevalence of the amphibian chytrid fungus, also known as Bd, in the southeastern US. 

Filter Total Items: 43
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

Year Published: 2010

USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, 2010

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program adapts research priorities to address the most important contamination issues facing the Nation and to identify new threats to environmental health. The Program investigates two major types of contamination problems: * Subsurface Point-Source Contamination, and * Watershed...

Buxton, Herbert T.
USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, 2010; 2010; FS; 2010-3011; Buxton, Herbert T.

Year Published: 2010

Modeling Climate Change and Sturgeon Populations in the Missouri River

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Missouri and Iowa State University, is conducting research to address effects of climate change on sturgeon populations (Scaphirhynchus spp.) in the Missouri River. The CERC is conducting laboratory, field,...

Wildhaber, Mark L.
Modeling Climate Change and Sturgeon Populations in the Missouri River; 2010; FS; 2010-3019; Wildhaber, Mark L.

Year Published: 2010

Agricultural wetlands as potential hotspots for mercury bioaccumulation: Experimental evidence using caged fish

Wetlands provide numerous ecosystem services, but also can be sources of methylmercury (MeHg) production and export. Rice agricultural wetlands in particular may be important sites for MeHg bioaccumulation due to their worldwide ubiquity, periodic flooding schedules, and high use by wildlife. We assessed MeHg bioaccumulation within agricultural...

Ackerman, Joshua T.; Eagles-Smith, Collin A.
Agricultural wetlands as potential hotspots for mercury bioaccumulation: Experimental evidence using caged fish; 2010; Article; Journal; Environmental Science and Technology; Ackerman, J. T.; Eagles-Smith, C. A.

Year Published: 2006

The toxicological geochemistry of Earth materials: An overview of processes and the interdisciplinary methods used to understand them

A broad spectrum of earth materials have been linked to, blamed for, and/or debated as sources for disease. In some cases, the links are clear. For example, excessive exposures to mineral dusts have long been recognized for their role in diseases such as: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancers (asbestos); silicosis and lung cancer (silica...

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Morman, Suzette A.; Ziegler, Thomas L.

Year Published: 2004

Environmental assessment

Final report of the Independent US Assessment Team, Section 5.

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Boyle, T.P.; Logsdon, M.J.; Carr, R.S.

Year Published: 2003

The medical geochemistry of dusts, soils, and other Earth materials: Chapter 7

A quick scan of newspapers, television, science magazines, or the internet on any given day has a fairly high likelihood of encountering stories (accompanied by headlines such as those above) regarding human health concerns linked to dusts, soils, or other Earth materials. Many such concerns have been recognized and studied for decades, but new...

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Ziegler, Thomas L.

Year Published: 1999

The environmental geochemistry of mineral deposits, Part A. Processes, techniques, and health issues

No abstract available. 

Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Logsdon, Mark J.

Year Published: 1999

Metal mining and the environment

The booklet, Metal Mining and the Environment, and the colorful companion poster offer new tools for raising awareness and understanding of the impact and issues surrounding metal mining and the environment. The 64-page full-color booklet contains a copy of the poster which includes a student activity on the back. This booklet and poster can help...

Hudson, Travis L.; Fox, Frederick D. ; Plumlee, Geoffrey S.

Filter Total Items: 45
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 collecting a water sample from Boulder Creek, Colorado.
2012 (approx.)
A USGS scientist collecting a water-quality sample from Boulder Creek, Colorado. USGS scientists have shown that many chemicals discharged from municipal wastewater treatment facilities persist for miles downstream at levels known, or suspected, to cause adverse health impacts to aquatic organisms—including endocrine disruption in fish. Photo credit: Jennifer Beck, USGS.
USGS analyst performs DNA extractions in a laboratory
December 13, 2012
A U.S. Geological Survey analyst performs DNA extractions on enriched cultures of water from the study area. Once the DNA was extracted it was used to detect pathogen gene markers using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Scientists have found that the presence of indicator bacteria, hepatitis E virus (HEV), and numerous bacterial pathogen genes increased following precipitation-induced runoff...
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...
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...
Wetland habitats, such as the Great Salt Lake wetlands, provide critical feeding areas for many fish and wildlife species.
May 28, 2011
Wetland habitats, such as the Great Salt Lake wetlands, provide critical feeding areas for many fish and wildlife species.
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...

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: 61
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.

USGS science for a changing world logo
March 3, 2016

Scientists have collected and analyzed 84 environmental samples to establish baseline data prior to any active uranium mining activities at the Canyon Uranium Mine, located south of Grand Canyon National Park.

USGS science for a changing world logo
February 17, 2016

USGS scientists have detected toxins known as microcystins produced by various forms of algae in 39 percent of the small streams assessed throughout the southeastern United States. Their recent study looked at 75 streams in portions of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

USGS science for a changing world logo
February 9, 2016

WASHINGTON—The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey reflects the USGS's vital role in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st Century by advancing scientific discovery and innovation.

Publication Cover for Public Access to USGS Research
February 8, 2016

The U.S. Geological Survey is implementing new measures that will improve public access to USGS-funded science as detailed in its new public access plan.

USGS science for a changing world logo
January 13, 2016

Between 1990 and 2010, global mercury emissions from manmade sources declined 30 percent, according to a new analysis by Harvard University, Peking University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, and the University of Alberta. These results challenge long-standing assumptions about mercury emission trends.

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. 

A USGS scientist collects samples while studying the Norman Landfill as part of our leachate research.
December 18, 2015

No, it’s not a sports drink for leeches, although that’s what it sounds like. Leachate is the solution (or suspension) that forms when liquid travels through a solid and removes some components of that solid with it. Those components may be dissolved or suspended within the liquid.

Source Contribution of Mercury in Great Lakes Sediment
December 10, 2015

For the first time, land and resource managers in the Great Lakes will be able to distinguish between the various sources of mercury in the environment, a toxic chemical of significant concern in the region. This is thanks to a new tool that “fingerprints” the mercury, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

USGS logo
November 13, 2015

Fish health may be affected by pharmaceuticals in treated wastewater released into streams and other water bodies, according to a recent laboratory and field study by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Examples of treated and stored liquid waste samples
November 12, 2015

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey details that even after the storage and/or treatment of leachate – liquid waste that moves through or drains from a landfill − it can still contain a multitude of chemicals and reflects the diverse nature of residential, industrial, and commercial waste discarded into landfills in the United States.

USGS science for a changing world logo
November 5, 2015

USGS scientists have conducted the first-ever field measurements of anammox activity in groundwater, demonstrating that nitrogen removal from groundwater can occur through the action of naturally occurring bacteria. This research was conducted in collaboration with partners from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the University of Connecticut.

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