Emerging Contaminants in U.S. Waters


Jan. 25, 2007


Becher, KD

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Galveston Bay Estuary Program


The USGS has been involved in research of emerging contaminants that may occur in surface and ground water, bed sediments, biosolids, and drinking water since the beginning of 1999. Emerging contaminants are chemical and microbial constituents including hormones, food additives, detergents, and pharmaceuticals that typically occur in parts-per-trillion or parts-per-billion concentrations in water. These contaminants are called "emerging" because while they have not historically been monitored in the environment, they have the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and (or) human health effects. Emerging contaminants have been detected in surface water, groundwater, bed sediments, biosolids, and in drinking water. Wastewater influent and effluent studies have indicated that not all of the targeted emerging contaminants are being removed during the wastewater treatment process. Many of the emerging contaminants are known endocrine disruptors in biota and have been detected in water and sediment. There is evidence of endocrine disruption in fish in surface waters below wastewater treatment plants. The health effects of low concentrations of emerging contaminants on wildlife or humans are not definitively known, but antibiotic resistance in bacteria is common, as are endocrine-disrupting effects in fish and amphibians. More studies on the fate and transport of these compounds are being conducted and the search continues to identify other compounds that may have an effect on biota and human health. Analytical methods for analyzing emerging contaminants are typically experimental and development is ongoing, and the USGS has developed analytical methods to detect emerging contaminants in water, sludge, and soil. Currently, the analytical methods developed by the USGS can detect 165 compounds, and the list of compounds continues to grow as analytical methods are improved. The environmental occurrence, potential sources and source pathways, transport and fate, and ecological effects of emerging contaminants are described within this presentation.




bed sediments, biosolids, chemical contaminants, drinking water, ground water, health effects, microbial contaminants, surface water, USGS