New Jersey Field Office
Northeast Region
 

Environmental Contaminants

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What are environmental contaminants?

Stated simply, environmental contaminants are materials that can pollute our surroundings and adversely impact living organisms. Often these pollutants are chemical compounds produced by human endeavors, although environmental contamination can also come from non-human sources such as naturally occurring metals, animal waste, oil seeps, and algal blooms.

Why Should We Be Concerned About Them?

These materials threaten living organisms due to their persistence in the environment and their capacity to affect all levels of a food chain. Depending on the concentration and degree of exposure, contaminants may be harmful to a wide variety of plant and animal species, including humans, and could have long-lasting consequences for our environment.


What are the goals of the Environmental Contaminants Program?

1) identify and measure environmental contaminants and their effects on fish and wildlife
(2) prevent losses of fish and wildlife, or degradation of their habitats, from pollutant exposure
(3) evaluate and restore contaminated areas throughout New Jersey

The New Jersey Field Office's Environmental Contaminants Specialists fulfill these goals through activities such as conducting scientific investigations to document and remedy contaminant-related problems for fish and wildlife, monitoring long-term contaminant trends, participating in oil and chemical spill clean-ups, consulting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce impacts to federal trust resources at Superfund sites, and ensuring that polluters restore and compensate for environmental damage. Through these actions, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service helps to ensure a healthy environment for fish and wildlife -- and humans as well.

What role does the Environmental Contaminants Program play in New Jersey?

Highly industrialized, New Jersey has become the nation's most densely populated state. Attendant with this growth is the increase in creation and potential discharge of environmental contaminants. Despite these intense pressures, New Jersey still boasts a surprising richness of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats. Protecting this natural diversity from pollution-related impacts is the primary mission of contaminants biologists stationed at the New Jersey Field Office. The goals of the office's Environmental Contaminants Program are to: (1) identify and measure environmental contaminants and their effects on fish and wildlife; (2) prevent losses of fish and wildlife, or degradation of their habitats, from pollutant exposure; and (3) evaluate and restore contaminated areas throughout New Jersey. These goals are achieved through the following work activities:

  • Participate in the Biological Technical Assistance Group, a cooperative effort with other federal agencies that assists the U.S. EPA in investigating and reducing contaminant impacts from New Jersey's Superfund hazardous waste sites.
  • Ensure that lands acquired for future inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge system do not contain levels of contaminants that might impact federal trust resources.
  • Work with other agencies and organizations to prevent or reduce adverse impacts to fish and wildlife from oil and chemical spills.
  • Act in conjunction with other government agencies to restore natural resources injured by oil spills or Superfund sites. (Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration)
  • Conduct scientific studies on and off Service-owned lands to document contaminant exposure in fish and wildlife and suggest ways to minimize potential or observed impacts.
  • Measure long-term pollution trends in fish and wildlife and their habitats (air, soil, water, sediments) on refuge lands.
  • Make recommendations to other State and Federal agencies on ways to eliminate or minimize contaminant exposure to New Jersey's fish, wildlife, and natural environments. Examples of activities include: pesticide registration review, participation in water quality standards development, and the review of dredging permits.
  • Consult with other Federal agencies to ensure that federally listed threatened and endangered species are not adversely impacted by Federal government activities. Contaminants biologists review proposed Federal activities for any risk of toxicant exposure to listed species.

What does all this mean for the citizens of New Jersey?

When contaminants are released into the environment, fish and wildlife are not the only organisms that can be impacted. Humans also can suffer from pollution in the environment, both from the potential for direct exposure and from the indirect impacts on our quality of life. Contaminant levels in drinking water, fish, and shellfish have occasionally resulted in consumption advisories, causing New Jersey's citizens and economy to suffer due to restrictions on fishing, clamming, and recreational pastimes. In addition, many people place an intrinsic value on wildlife resources, and this value is diminished when pollution harms the health and diversity of fish and wildlife populations.

The following examples of ongoing work by the office's contaminants specialists illustrate how both New Jersey's natural resources and human inhabitants benefit from the Environmental Contaminants Program.

  • Contaminant Identification and Assessment: we are conducting a contaminant investigation in abandoned cranberry bogs within the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Biologists are investigating whether sediment-bound organochlorines, detected in previous samples, have the potential to move through the aquatic food chain and adversely impact fish-eating wildlife.
  • Contamination Prevention: In 1998, our contaminants specialists became aware of a possible threat to the state's only known population of the federally endangered dwarf wedgemussel. The proposed construction of a sewage treatment plant that will discharge into water harboring the mussels prompted a joint effort with New Jersey's Division of Fish & Wildlife to delineate the population range and prevent actions possibly jeopardizing the mussel's survival.
  • Contamination Evaluation and Restoration: our biologists work with other federal agencies in evaluating natural resource injuries resulting from exposure to contaminants, and then develop restoration plans to compensate the public for lost or impaired resources. A recent example involves a $3.4 million settlement for improper disposal of pollutants on land now part of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The settlement will be used in a restoration plan designed to compensate the public for the permanent loss of wetlands and the ecological services they provided.

Will we always need the Environmental Contaminants Program?

Regulatory controls, improved technologies, and increased awareness have done much to reduce the amount of contaminants discharged into our environment during the last few decades; however, for the foreseeable future, our industrialized lifestyle will continue to produce and release a variety of pollutants. While our biologists will continue their efforts to counter the impact of environmental contamination on wild living resources, New Jersey's citizens can also play a role in protecting the environment. Community involvement is necessary to monitor activities that may impact our natural resources and to promote less harmful alternatives. And as individuals, each of us has the responsibility to examine our own actions and recognize that each reduction in pollution enhances the quality of life for all creatures.

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Last updated: August 23, 2011
New Jersey Field Office
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