U.S. Geological Survey - Environmental Health

The GeoHealth Newsletter is now called the GeoHEALTH–USGS Newsletter
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Vol. 6, No. 1 – Summer 2008

GeoHealth Newsletter

  USGS Activities Related to Human Health
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Mosquitoes and West Nile Virus: Where are the Virus Carriers?


West Nile virus was not reported in the Western Hemisphere until an outbreak in the fall 1999. Since then, the virus has spread across the United States and Canada and south into Central America and the Caribbean. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been conducting a variety of research and assessment projects on the spread of West Nile virus. The following are a sample of three projects the USGS and its collaborators have recently conducted to answer questions about West Nile and other viruses.

  • How abundant will mosquitoes be this year? The answer to this question could help public and veterinary health professionals protect human and animal health from mosquito borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Scientists from the USGS and the Center for Vectorborne Diseases at the University of California, Davis, have shown that antecedent measures of regional climate, including temperature, precipitation, and snow pack are correlated with the abundance of the mosquito Culex tarsalis Coquillett in California. For example warm, winters were positively correlated with higher spring mosquito populations; wet winters similarly relate to spring mosquito populations in the southern half of the state but not the northern half. This species of mosquito is associated with the spread of West Nile virus. The understanding the scientists developed of how mosquito populations vary with climate could help health professionals to forecast trends in the risk of exposure to West Nile virus.
  • Example map from Disease Maps Web site
    National Cumulative Mosquito Infections for 2008 as of June 24, 2008, USGS Disease Maps (Current data) Pink areas are counties with positive test results for virus infections and green areas are counties that submitted samples for testing.
  • Where have mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus been found? The USGS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their partners have been mapping the occurrence of West Nile virus and other diseases carried by mosquitoes to answer this question. The interactive Disease Maps Web site has maps of the geographic occurrence of the detection of mosquito-related diseases in birds, humans, mosquitoes, sentinel animals, and veterinary animals.
  • What types of geographic data are useful for describing mosquito distribution patterns? To answer this question, scientists from Suffolk County, New York and the USGS compared using human population density data with land use/land cover classification data to describe mosquito abundance for nine mosquito species, all known or potential transmitters (vectors) of West Nile and other viruses. The geographic information system (GIS) analysis concluded that although the readily available data on human population density had some predictive utility, the harder to collect data on land use proved more helpful in describing complex patterns of mosquito distribution and occurrence.

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Birds Carrying Diseases: A Cross-Boundary Phenomenon?

Northern Pintail on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta
Northern Pintail on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta

What is the likelihood that a hunter will find a disease-carrying bird that came from another country? It's a possibility. A hunter in Mississippi recently found a pintail duck originally banded in Japan 8 years before. This finding shows the connectivity between the United States and Asia through migratory birds. Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has previously occurred in Japan, and scientists now have the opportunity to study whether the North American and Asian pintail populations are exchanging avian influenza viruses and whether it is possible for pintails to transmit these viruses from Japan to North America.

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New Fact Sheet: Water Availability—The Connection Between Water Use and Quality

image of USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3015

Competition for water is becoming more severe as the Nation's population continues to increase, which places greater demands on water resources. Water impaired by human activities puts limits on the use of available water. Perhaps less understood is that subtle human influence on the quality of our water can release naturally occurring contaminants, like uranium and radium, into streams and aquifers, thereby constraining the availability of usable water. A new fact sheet from the USGS is available that summarizes these issues in an easy to understand format. The fact sheet provides examples of how water use and management practices, together with natural features and the landscape, can affect water quality, and thus the availability of water for critical uses.

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Beach Safety and Water Quality: A New Collaborative Project

Edgewater Beach, OH

A new collaborative project has begun to provide improved information on water quality to beach managers in the Great Lakes states. Beach managers are often faced with deciding whether to close beaches to protect public health. Project scientists are focusing on improving water-quality forecasting by enhancing and expanding models that help beach managers decide if beach advisories or closures are necessary. The project has been funded through interagency implementation of the President's Ocean Action Plan and will be a collaborative effort that will draw on the expertise of USGS and other Federal, State, and local agencies.

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Global Wildlife Disease News Map

Image of the Global Wildlife Disease News Map Web site

In our globalized world, disease can spread in unprecedented time and space. However, keeping abreast of wildlife disease occurrences and trends can be challenging, despite the significant impact of those diseases on domestic animal and human health. The Wildlife Disease Information Node (WDIN) has added a new feature, the Global Wildlife Disease News Map. This unique online map makes it possible to follow the latest reports of nearly 50 diseases and other health conditions that threaten wildlife, domestic animal, and human health in a world wide context. The map works by displaying articles on the detection and spread of wildlife disease, as well as other conditions that affect the health of wildlife, based on their geographical location. The Map is populated by news stories compiled as a part of WDIN’s news services. The WDIN staff combs through a variety of news sources and combines disparate information about wildlife disease and other wildlife health-related topics into the Wildlife Disease News Digest.

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Pesticides in the Lower Clackamas River and in Samples of Drinking Water

Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5027 cover image

USGS scientists studying the occurrence of pesticides in the lower Clackamas River watershed found a variety of pesticides in water samples from the lower Clackamas River and its tributaries. Samples were also collected from a drinking-water treatment plant that uses the river as a raw-water source. Trace-level detections of pesticides were found in treated drinking water from the plant. All of the detections in drinking water were, however, far below existing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards and other human-health benchmarks. Fifteen pesticides were detected variously in 18 samples of the finished drinking water. The four most common pesticides detected were diuron, simazine, dacthal, and hexazinone, which occurred in two to four samples each. These low-level detections of pesticides can be used to inform water resource managers about their presence and gives some idea of their respective levels in source and finished drinking water, which will allow the managers to make informed decisions about the suitability of local water resources and its susceptibility to influence from human activities. The Clackamas County Department of Water Environment Services cooperated with the USGS on the study.

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Ingredients in Common Household Products Found in Earthworms

                                    scientist collecting earthworms from a soybean field fertilized with biosolids.
Scientist collected earthworms from a soybean field fertilized with biosolids. The earthworms were analyzed for 77 chemicals; 20 chemicals were detected in the earthworms.

Earthworms studied in agricultural fields where biosolids and manure were applied have been found to contain chemicals from household products and manure, indicating that such substances are entering the food chain. The chemicals investigated include a range of active ingredients in common household products such as detergents, antibacterial soaps, fragrances, and pharmaceuticals.

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Modeling the Probability of Arsenic in Ground Water in Pennsylvania: A Tool for Exposure Assessment

                                    geologic map of the Newark Basin in southeastern Pennsylvania with the location of wells
                                    sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey for arsenic from 1973 through 2001.
A geologic map of the Newark Basin in southeastern Pennsylvania with the location of wells sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey for arsenic from 1973 through 2001. Colored dots indicate the magnitude of dissolved arsenic concentrations in ground water for each well. For wells completed in and near diabase rocks, arsenic concentrations in ground water appear to be greater than for the Newark Basin as a whole. Higher arsenic concentrations could be caused by arsenic enrichment in the rocks and/or a favorable geochemical environment that mobilizes arsenic. (Scientific Investigations Report 2006–5261, Figure 4, page 18)
(Click on image for larger version)

Detectable concentrations of arsenic have been reported in ground water from commercial, industrial, public, and private water-supply wells in Pennsylvania. USGS scientists and their collaborators have shown that ground water originating from marine or black shales and glacial sediments as well as ground water in the Newark Basin (a large sedimentary basin in eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey) are enriched with arsenic in comparison to many other areas of Pennsylvania. Although the type of rock (lithology) is an important variable in understanding the occurrence of arsenic in ground water, other factors that may affect the fate and transport of arsenic in ground water include: the chemistry of ground water (pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), and oxidation/reduction potential (REDOX)), presence of iron sulfide minerals (such as pyrite, nitrate, and manganese), proximity to intrusive igneous rocks, resource extraction (oil and gas production), topographic setting, surface slope, soil characteristics, precipitation, land use classification, ground-water residence time, well yield, and well depth. To evaluate the many variables that affect arsenic in ground water, scientists from the USGS will develop a statistical model, known as a logistic-regression model, to estimate the probability that arsenic concentrations in wells will exceed a threshold value of 4 micrograms per liter (µg/L). The model will be designed to show areas or regions in Pennsylvania that have greater than average probability of containing ground water with elevated (greater than 4 µg/L) concentrations of arsenic. Water-resource managers and health professionals will be able to use the model along with other earth-science information to conduct exposure assessments as well as to develop sound policies and programs regarding arsenic in wells used for drinking water. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection provided funding for this project. For more information contact Dennis Low, USGS, New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

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 Upcoming Meetings go to top of page 
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The 33rd International Geological Congress, Oslo, Norway, August 6–14, 2008

The 33rd International Geological Congress features several plenary themes, symposia, and short courses on Geohealth that all fit within the Congress' overall theme of "Earth System Science: Foundation for Sustainable Development." A sub-theme has been selected for each day of the Congress. Of particular interest here is the Water, Health, and Environment sub-theme. This sub-theme will feature invited presentations during a full-day plenary session. In addition to the above sub-theme, the following symposia and short courses are also part of the Congress:

Congress Web Site

"Health - Energy - Global Impact" Transatlantic Science Week 2008

The Royal Norwegian Embassies in Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC, are hosting Transatlantic Science Week 2008. The event is being held in collaboration with several United States and Canadian institutions, The Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway, and the Carnegie Institution for Science. The objective of Transatlantic Science Week is to create meeting place to foster cooperation in research, innovation, and higher education. The event's themes are:

  • Health – from research frontiers to innovation and global health
  • Energy for a sustainable future
  • The Arctic – climate, resources, environment – Beyond the International Polar Year
  • Transatlantic and multilateral cooperation with global impact.

Meeting Web Site

Chemical Analysis and Fate of Degradation Products of Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater Treatment Plants and River Waters

The USGS and the Chemical and Environmental Research Institute of Barcelona (IIQAB), Spain, are cosponsoring the special session "Chemical Analysis and Fate of Degradation Products of Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater Treatment Plants and River Waters" at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) North America 29th Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida, on November 16-20, 2008. The session will present a variety of papers on methods used for the analysis of pharmaceuticals in wastewater and water, and the persistence and fate of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Session Chairs: Damia Barcelo, IIQAB, and Ed Furlong, USGS

Meeting Web Site

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 New Publications go to top of page 
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Coming Soon!

Barnes, K.K., Kolpin, D.W., Furlong, E.T., Zaugg, S.D., Meyer, M.T., and Barber, L.B., 2008, A national reconnaissance of pharmaceuticals and other organic wastewater contaminants in the United States--I. Groundwater: Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.04.028 (IN PRESS).

Focazio, M.J., Kolpin, D.W., Barnes, K.K., Furlong, E.T., Meyer, M.T., Zaugg, S.D., Barber, L.B., and Thurman, E.M., 2008, A national reconnaissance for pharmaceuticals and other organic wastewater contaminants in the Unites States--II. Untreated drinking water sources: Science of the Total Environment, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.02.021 (IN PRESS).

Harvey, R.W., Metge, D.W., Shapiro, A.M., Renken, R.A., Osborn, C.L., Ryan, J.N., Cunningham, K.J., and Landkamer, L.L., 2008, Pathogen and chemical transport in the karst limestone of the Biscayne aquifer--3. Use of microspheres to estimate the transport potential of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts: Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2007WR006060 (IN PRESS).

Hirsch, R.M., Hamilton, P.A., Miller, T.L., and Myers, D.N., 2008, Key water issues now facing our Nation: AWRA Impact (IN PRESS).

Landon, M.K., Clark, B.R., McMahon, P.B., McGuire, V.L., and Turco, M.J., 2008, Hydrogeology, chemical-characteristics, and transport processes in the zone of contribution of a public-supply well in York, Nebraska: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5050 (IN PRESS).

McMahon, P.B., Burow, K.R., Kauffman, L.J., Eberts, S.M., Bohlke, J., and Gurdak, J.J., 2008, Simulated response of water quality in public supply wells to land-use change: Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2007WR006731 (IN PRESS).

Renken, R.A., Cunningham, K.J., Shapiro, A.M., Harvey, R.W., Zygnerski, M.R., Metge, D.W., and Wacker, M.A., 2008, Pathogen and chemical transport in the karst limestone of the Biscayne aquifer--1. Revised conceptualization of groundwater flow: Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2007WR006058 (IN PRESS).

Samish, M., Ginsberg, H., and Glazer, I., 2008, Anti-tick biological control agents--Assessment and future perspectives, in, Bowman, A.S., and Nuttall, P., eds., Ticks--Biology, Disease and Control: Cambridge University Press (IN PRESS).

Shapiro, A.M., Renken, R.A., Harvey, R.W., Zygnerski, M.R., and Metge, D.W., 2008, Pathogen and chemical transport in the karst limestone of the Biscayne aquifer--2. Chemical retention from diffusion and slow advection: Water Resources Research, doi:10.1029/2007WR006059 (IN PRESS).

Published Recently!

Burow, K.R., Jurgens, B.C., Kauffman, L.J., Phillips, S.P., Dalgish, B.A., and Shelton, J.L., 2008, Simulations of ground-water flow and particle pathline analysis in the zone of contribution of a public-supply well in Modesto, Eastern San Joaquin Valley, California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5035, 41 p.

Carpenter, K.D., Sobieszczyk, S., Arnsberg, A.J., and Rinella, F.A., 2008, Pesticide occurrence and distribution in the Lower Clackamas River Basin, Oregon, 2000–2005: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5027, 99 p.

Carter, J.M., Lapham, W.W., and Zogorski, J.S., 2008, Occurrence of volatile organic compounds in aquifers of the United States: Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 44, no. 2, p. 399-416, doi:10.1111/j.1752-1688.2008.00170.x.

Clark, B.R., Landon, M.K., Kauffman, L.J., and Hornberger, G.Z., 2008, Simulations of ground-water flow, transport, age, and particle tracking near York, Nebraska, for a Study of Transport of Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants (TANC) to Public-Supply Wells: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5068,47 p.

Ginsberg, H.S., and Faulde, M.K., 2008, Ticks, in Bonnefoy, X., Kampen, H., and Sweeney, K., eds., Public Health Significance of Urban Pests: World Health Organization (WHO), Regional Office for Europe, p. 303-345.

Hirsch, R.M., Hamilton, P.A., Miller, T.L., and Myers, D.N., 2008, Water availability--The connection between water use and quality: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2008-3015, 4 p.

Ip, H.S., Flint, P.L., Franson, J.C., Dusek, R.J., Derksen, D.V., Jr, R.E.G., Ely, C.R., Pearce, J.M., Lanctot, R.B., Matsuoka, S.M., Irons, D.B., Fischer, J.B., Oates, R.M., Petersen, M.R., Fondell, T.F., Rocque, D.A., Pedersen, J.C., and Rothe, T.C., 2008, Prevalence of Influenza A viruses in wild migratory birds in Alaska--Patterns of variation in detection at a crossroads of intercontinental flyways: Virology Journal, v. 5, doi:10.1186/1743-422X-5-71.

Jagucki, M.J., Landon, M.K., Clark, B.R., and Eberts, S.M., 2008, Assessing the vulnerability of public-supply wells to contamination--High Plains Aquifer Near York, Nebraska: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS 2008-3025, 6 p.

McMahon, P.B., Böhlke, J.K., Kauffman, L.J., Kipp, K.L., Landon, M.K., Crandall, C.A., Burow, K.R., and Brown, C.J., 2008, Source and transport controls on the movement of nitrate to public supply wells in selected principal aquifers of the United States: Water Resources Research, v. 44, W04401, doi:10.1029/2007WR006252.

Reisen, W.K., Cayan, D., Tyree, M., Barker, C.M., Eldridge, B., and Dettinger, M., 2008, Impact of climate variations on mosquito abundance in California: Journal of Vector Ecology, v. 33, no. 1, p. 89-98, doi:10.3376/1081-1710(2008)33[89:IOCVOM]2.0.CO;2.

Rochlin, I., Harding, K., Ginsberg, H.S., Campbell, S.R., 2008, Comparative analysis of distribution and abundance of West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephelitis virus vectors in Suffolk County, New York using human population density and land use/cover data: Journal of Medical Entomology, v. 45, n. 3, p. 563-571.

Young, D.S., Kramer, L.D., Maffei, J.G., Dusek, R.J., Backenson, P.B., Mores, C.N., Bernard, K.A., and Ebel, G.D., 2008, Molecular epidemiology of Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, New York: Emerging Infectious Diseases, v. 14, no. 3, p. 454-460.

Compiled and Edited by David W. Morganwalp

Errata 4/3/2014


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