Ecological Services: Environmental Contaminants
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Environmental Contaminants Investigations

Great Lakes Watershed


Region 3 Environmental Contaminants Program Continues Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Investigation in Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) to Evaluate Contaminants of Emerging Concern

Service biologists in a small boat, about to release a net.

Fish collection for the Contaminants of Emerging Concern Project and evaluation of fish tumors and deformities for the St. Louis River Area of Concern.

Photo by USFWS

To stay at the forefront of conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Environmental Contaminants program in Regions 3 and 5 initiated an “Early Warning Program” in the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in FY2010.  The purpose of the program is to detect and identify “chemicals of emerging concern”, and evaluate the effects of these contaminants in fish and wildlife.  Contaminants of emerging concern are used in personal care products, on farms, or by industry and business in a variety of commonly used products; such as deodorants, steroids, hormones, prescription and non-prescription drugs, plasticizers, pesticides, and detergents. Many of these contaminants are not regulated or inadequately regulated despite evidence suggesting that fish and wildlife suffer developmental and reproductive effects when exposed.  Although we are able to detect these substances in surface water, little is known about their effects on fish and wildlife populations. 


After completing a successful pilot project in fall 2010, Environmental Contaminants biologists from the Twin Cities, MN; Green Bay, WI;  East Lansing, MI;  Bloomington, IN; Columbus, OH; and Cortland, NY Ecological Services Field Offices, began the second round of field sampling from April to June of 2011 on the St. Louis River, Fox River/Green Bay, Milwaukee Estuary,  Detroit River, Swan Creek in the Maumee Area of Concern, the Ashtabula River, and Rochester Bay Area of Concern collecting fish, water, and sediment samples around the Great Lakes Region. 


Woman measuring a fish and about to start a necropsy.

Necropsy based fish assessment for the Contaminants of Emerging Concern Project and evaulation of fish tumors and deformities.

Photo by USFWS

In partnership with USGS and USEPA, water and sediment samples are analyzed for ~170 contaminants of emerging concern, while fish tissues are examined for hormone concentrations in plasma, sexual development, incidences of intersex, neoplastic and preneoplastic changes in the liver and skin, lesions, parasitic infections, and a list of contaminants to be determined based on bioindicator results.  Molecular work assessing 25-50 genes in the liver, spleen, anterior kidney, and gonad tissue is also being conducted on wild fish, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is looking at molecular endpoints of caged fish.


The CEC project will benefit the sustainability of the Great Lakes ecosystem by identifying contaminant levels, toxicity of CECs, and effects to trust resources. These data will be used to relate environmental concentrations of contaminates of emerging concern to toxicity values, evaluate pathways and sources, and recommend controls and regulations or inform management actions that prevent or reduce adverse impacts to fish and wildlife.



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Last updated: February 10, 2016