Geoffrey Plumlee, Ph.D.
The Associate Director for Environmental Health leads USGS science at the intersection of health and environment—science that helps understand the actual versus perceived hazards that environmental contaminants and pathogens pose to humans and other organisms.
Career History and Highlights
Geoff Plumlee brings to his AD position 33 years of research and science management experience with the USGS, as well as his ability to establish successful research collaborations with scientists from a broad range of earth, health, social, emergency response, and engineering science disciplines. Early in his career, Geoff’s research integrating economic geology and environmental geochemistry gained new insights into how mineral deposits form and how resource extraction can be accomplished while better protecting the environment. Geoff conceived of and led the development of geoenvironmental models of mineral deposits, which provide the geologic basis for better anticipating and preventing adverse environmental impacts from mineral resource development. From 1996-2001, Geoff served as Director for two USGS science centers, providing scientific and managerial leadership for more than 200 scientists and support staff. After rotating back to research in 2001, he helped lead USGS science collaborations with health experts to understand human health implications of geologic materials such as asbestos, mine wastes, and volcanic ash, and materials produced by disasters such as the World Trade Center collapse, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and mine tailings spills. Through his work with USGS hazards experts, Geoff developed methods to help anticipate environmental and health implications of looming or future disasters.
Geoff is an adjunct clinical assistant professor at University of Colorado School of Public Health, Past Chair of the Geological Society of America’s Geology and Health Division, a contributing editor to Earth Magazine, a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, and an appointed Council Member of the American Geophysical Union. He is a lead author or coauthor on over 140 scientific papers, including articles in technical journals and books spanning disciplines such as environmental geochemistry, public health, natural hazards, economic geology, and geology.
Geoff holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Geology from the University of New Mexico, 1980, and a Doctorate in Geochemistry from Harvard University, 1989.
Key Publications are listed below. PDF’s of specific publications, as well as a complete list of Geoff’s more than 140 publications, are available upon request.
Science and Products
The public worries that uranium in natural geologic formations, mine tailings, dusts, water, and other geologic materials can pose a health hazard to humans and wildlife.
Our specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, and geologists working together at a field site in the Grand Canyon region of the United States have shown:
Elevated uranium concentrations (above the drinking...
Science from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other entities has shown that a mixture of natural and synthetic estrogens and other similar chemicals are discharged from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to streams and rivers.
USGS and University of Colorado hydrologists, chemists, geologists, and biologists studied the chemistry and biology of Boulder Creek downstream of Boulder ...
There are no national databases or tracking of the number or frequency of manure spills in the United States. Some past spills have been shown to result from events such as equipment failures, over-application of manure to agricultural fields, runoff from open feedlots, storage overflow, accidents with manure transporting equipment, severe weather events, or possibly deliberate actions....
Our specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, and geologists working together at field sites in Northeastern US after Hurricane Sandy have shown:
- Metal contaminants were released to the environment after Hurricane Sandy due to some dune restoration activities.
- In other locations the storm actually decreased contaminant exposures to bottom dwelling aquatic biota. ...
A growing number of human gastrointestinal, respiratory, dermatologic, and neurologic effects, as well as dog and livestock illnesses and deaths, in the United States have been linked to exposures to algal blooms in recreational lakes and stock ponds.
Some of the blooms contain cyanobacteria, which have the potential to produce cyanotoxins in freshwater systems. However, the connection...
Safe Drinking Water Act compliance addresses the safety of public-supply water systems. The composition of public-supply drinking water is generally only tested at the treatment plant, and not at the tap after traveling through the water distribution system. Only lead and copper are tested at a subset of residential and other taps. Testing of water in private wells is rare unless local health...
Are Tumors in Wild Fish Harvested in the Great Lakes Region Related to Contaminants in Water Resources?
Our specialized teams of scientists are working in our laboratories and at field sites around the Great Lakes in collaboration with other federal and state resource agencies to document the prevalence of skin and liver tumors. Tumor prevalence in white suckers (Catostomus commersonii), a fish harvested as a food source by local communities, is related to the degree of urbanization in watershed...
Are Spills Associated with Deep Well Injection of Wastewater from Oil and Gas Operations a Health Hazard?
We have specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, biologists, and geologists working together in the New River Gorge National River watershed to answer this question.
Wastewater generated in association with oil and gas operations at this site is managed by injection in deep wells designed to safely dispose and contain contaminants in deep geologic formations.
About the Laboratory
The Bioactive Chemicals Research Laboratory applies a collaborative transdisciplinary approach to conduct research to minimize the risk to human and aquatic organism health from exposure to contaminants in water supplies. This laboratory integrates analytical chemistry, modeling, laboratory-, and field-based experiments to identify and quantify key...
About the Laboratory
Scientists at the Organic Geochemistry Research Laboratory (OGRL) in Lawrence, Kansas, develop and employ targeted and non-targeted analytical methods for identification and quantitation of known and understudied algal/cyanobacterial toxins that can impact the health of humans and other organisms. Newly acquired (2018) instrumentation will expand...
About the Laboratory
Microbiologists at the Microbial Biogeochemistry Laboratory develop and apply innovative methods to measure key microbial processes. These methods are used to better understand how major biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and iron) interact with and control the speciation and fate of metals like mercury and selenium which can impact...
About the Laboratory
Toxicologists at the High-Content Screening Laboratory develop alternative toxicity testing to efficiently provide specific toxicity data to managers and regulators and prioritize compounds for further testing. Our high-content imaging capability provides a highly adaptable platform for early life stage fish toxicity testing at stages considered an...
Method to characterize inorganic particulates in lung tissue biopsies using field emission scanning electron microscopy
Humans accumulate large numbers of inorganic particles in their lungs over a lifetime. Whether this causes or contributes to debilitating disease over a normal lifespan depends on the type and concentration of the particles. We developed and tested a protocol for in situ characterization of the types and distribution of inorganic...Lowers, Heather A.; Breit, George N.; Strand, Matthew; Pillers, Renee M.; Meeker, Gregory P.; Todorov, Todor I.; Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Wolf, Ruth E.; Robinson, Maura; Parr, Jane; Miller, Robert J.; Groshong, Steve; Green, Francis; Rose, Cecile
Toxicants in folk remedies: Implications of elevated blood lead in an American-born infant due to imported diaper powder
Though most childhood lead exposure in the USA results from ingestion of lead-based paint dust, non-paint sources are increasingly implicated. We present interdisciplinary findings from and policy implications of a case of elevated blood lead (13–18 mcg/dL, reference level <5 mcg/dL) in a 9-month-old infant, linked to a non-commercial...Karwowski, Mateusz P.; Morman, Suzette A.; Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Law, Terence; Kellogg, Mark; Woolf, Alan D.
Environmental implications of the use of sulfidic back-bay sediments for dune reconstruction — Lessons learned post Hurricane Sandy
Some barrier-island dunes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy's storm surges in October 2012 have been reconstructed using sediments dredged from back bays. These sand-, clay-, and iron sulfide-rich sediments were used to make berm-like cores for the reconstructed dunes, which were then covered by beach sand. In November 2013, we sampled and...Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Benzel, William M.; Hoefen, Todd M.; Hageman, Philip L.; Morman, Suzette A.; Reilly, Timothy J.; Adams, Monique; Berry, Cyrus J.; Fischer, Jeffrey; Fisher, Irene
Geologic materials and human health: Chapter 5.14
No abstract available.Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Morman, Suzette A.
Anticipating environmental and environmental-health implications of extreme storms: ARkStorm scenario
The ARkStorm Scenario predicts that a prolonged winter storm event across California would cause extreme precipitation, flooding, winds, physical damages, and economic impacts. This study uses a literature review and geographic information system-based analysis of national and state databases to infer how and where ARkStorm could cause...Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Alpers, Charles N.; Morman, Suzette A.; San Juan, Carma A.
Mining for metals in society's waste
Metals are crucial to society and enable our modern standard of living. Look around and you can't help but see products made of metals. For instance, a typical gasoline-powered automobile contains over a ton of iron and steel, 240 pounds of aluminum, 42 pounds of copper, 41 pounds of silicon, 22 pounds of zinc and more than 30 other mineral...Smith, Kathleen S.; Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Hageman, Philip L.
The environmental and medical geochemistry of potentially hazardous materials produced by disasters
Many natural or human-caused disasters release potentially hazardous materials (HM) that may pose threats to the environment and health of exposed humans, wildlife, and livestock. This chapter summarizes the environmentally and toxicologically significant physical, mineralogical, and geochemical characteristics of materials produced by a wide...Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Morman, Suzette A.; Meeker, G.P.; Hoefen, Todd M.; Hageman, Philip L.; Wolf, Ruth E.
Asphaltene content and composition as a measure of Deepwater Horizon oil spill losses within the first 80 days
The composition and content of asphaltenes in spilled and original wellhead oils from the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) incident provide information on the amount of original oil lost and the processes most responsible for the losses within the first 80 days of the active spill. Spilled oils were collected from open waters, coastal waters and coastal...Lewan, M.D.; Warden, A.; Dias, R.F.; Lowry, Z.K.; Hannah, T.L.; Lillis, P.G.; Kokaly, R.F.; Hoefen, T.M.; Swayze, G.A.; Mills, C.T.; Harris, S.H.; Plumlee, G.S.
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.
Potential Environmental and Environmental-Health Implications of the SAFRR Tsunami Scenario in California: Chapter F in The SAFRR (Science Application for Risk Reduction) Tsunami Scenario
The California Tsunami Scenario models the impacts of a hypothetical, yet plausible, tsunami caused by an earthquake offshore from the Alaska Peninsula. In this chapter, we interpret plausible tsunami-related contamination, environmental impacts, potential for human exposures to contaminants and hazardous materials, and implications for...Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Morman, Suzette A.; San Juan, Carma
Linking geology and health sciences to assess childhood lead poisoning from artisanal gold mining in Nigeria
Background: In 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières discovered a lead poisoning outbreak linked to artisanal gold processing in northwestern Nigeria. The outbreak has killed approximately 400 young children and affected thousands more. Objectives: Our aim was to undertake an interdisciplinary geological- and health-science assessment to clarify lead...Plumlee, Geoffrey S.; Durant, James T.; Morman, Suzette A.; Neri, Antonio; Wolf, Ruth E.; Dooyema, Carrie A.; Hageman, Philip L.; Lowers, Heather; Fernette, Gregory L.; Meeker, Gregory P.; Benzel, William M.; Driscoll, Rhonda L.; Berry, Cyrus J.; Crock, James G.; Goldstein, Harland L.; Adams, Monique; Bartrem, Casey L.; Tirima, Simba; Behrooz, Behbod; von Lindern, Ian; Brown, Mary Jean
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.
In Fiscal Year 2018 our two integrated programs – Contaminant Biology and Toxic Substances Hydrology Programs – provided essential information to understand the risks of environmental contaminants and pathogens.
"Everything we do is designed to safeguard the Nation's health, economy, and resources."
The USGS Environmental Health Mission Area (EHMA)—through its integrated programs, the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (TSHP) and the Contaminant Biology Program (CBP) — will continue its non-regulatory, non-advocacy science throughout 2019.