History of the Contaminants Program

The Service has been involved with studying contaminant effects on fish and wildlife since its earliest days, but the Environmental Contaminants Program really began to take form in the 1950s, when increasing awareness of pollution problems spurred the American public to demand action.

Then, in 1962, Rachel Carson, a former Service employee, captured national attention with her landmark book, Silent Spring, which outlined the widespread harmful effects of pesticides on the environment. Carson's alarming message that the effects of these substances on wildlife serve as indicators of what may ultimately jeopardize our own health struck a chord with the American public.

Many believe that Carson's book inspired the modern environmental movement and prompted the development of many of the pollution prevention laws that are still in place today. Within 15 years of the book's publication, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and pollution prevention laws such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Clean Air Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the "Superfund" toxic waste cleanup law (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act [CERCLA]) were passed.

Today, the Service's Environmental Contaminants Program includes contaminants specialists stationed at more than 75 locations around the country. Service contaminants specialists are on the front lines in the fight against pollution. They specialize in detecting toxic chemicals; addressing their effects; preventing harm to fish, wildlife and their habitats; and removing toxic chemicals and restoring habitat when prevention isn't possible. They are experts on oil and chemical spills, pesticides, water quality, hazardous materials disposal and other aspects of pollution biology. The Contaminant Program's operations are integrated into all other Service activities and the Service's contaminants specialists often work in partnership with other agencies and organizations which have come to rely on our expertise.

Last updated: February 13, 2013