Ecological Services: Environmental Contaminants
Midwest Region


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An Environmental Contaminants biologist conducts a necropsy on a fish onsite as part of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern study funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Photo by USFWS

Environmental Contaminants scientists investigate the ecological impacts of contaminants that are released into the environment through:


• municipal and industrial discharges,

• oil or hazardous substances spills,

• mining,

• urban and agricultural runoff, and

• from other sources. 


We design and conduct studies to identify and quantify contaminant impacts to fish and wildlife resources on and off Service lands (i.e., National Wildlife Refuges). The investigations result in specific management recommendations to prevent, reduce, or eliminate impacts. Investigations are based on sound scientific designs reviewed through a scientific peer review process. Finished reports are then made available to the public and other government agencies.



Great Lakes Watershed

Early Warning Program to Detect and Identify Contaminants of Emerging Concern and Their Effects to Fish and Wildlife

Twin Cities Field Office Environmental Contaminants Biologist Presents Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Research and Projects at Conferences

The "Early Warning Program to Detect and Identify Contaminants of Emerging Concern and Their Effects to Fish and Wildlife" and “Remediation to Restoration” Projects in the St. Louis River were topics of recent presentations by Fish and Wildlife Service staff at a conference and a science summit. Read more 


Contaminants of Emerging Concern Study

An “Early Warning Program” was initiated by the Environmental Contaminants program in the Midwest and Northeast through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  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. Read More



Cane Ridge Unit of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge Selenium Concentrations Dropping

Following discovery of elevated levels of selenium in the water and aquatic life at Cane Ridge Wildlife Management Area in southwestern Indiana in the spring of 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took several actions designed to reduce selenium levels available to endangered least terns and other birds feeding on the refuge. In 2008, the Service stopped accepting selenium-contaminated water from Duke Energy’s Gibson Lake into Cane Ridge, drew down the ponds and wetlands, removed approximately 4 tons of fish, disked the soil on the bottom of the ponds and wetlands to redistribute selenium in the soil and reduce the surface average concentrations of selenium. Duke Energy has provided a new and clean water supply for Cane Ridge and has stocked minnows in the tern pool to provide a less contaminated source of food for the nesting least terns. 


Environmental Contaminants Program biologists at the Bloomington, Inidana Ecological Services Field Office continue to monitor selenium concentrations in sediments, invertebrates, fish, bird eggs, and evaluate red-winged black bird nesting success at the Cane Ridge Unit of Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge to assess the success of these actions.  The results have been very positive.  Selenium residues are down 30% in forage fish, 38% in invertebrates and 71% in sediments of the tern pool management unit in our 2010 samples. The majority of the red-winged black bird nests successfully fledged young this year, although some did not. These nest failures could be the result of adverse weather, monitoring disturbance or other factors in addition to the unlikely possibility of selenium toxicity.  It is likely that through this work biologists will be able to assess trends in selenium contamination in these habitats and track the improvements of clean-up measures taken in preceding years. Additional laboratory results are expected this fall, and a final report completed in FY2012.


PCBs in Bald Eagle Eggs

A long-term investigation of the effect of PCBs on bald eagles throughout the Great Lakes watershed. Read more



Assessment of the Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems Beneficial Use Impairment in Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The State of Michigan has six Areas of Concern (AOCs) with the Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs).  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) AOC program has identified this BUI as having the potential to be assessed statewide using the criteria in the Guidance for Delisting Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Read more 


Detroit River Area of Concern: Restoration of the Common Tern Population in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Using an Adaptive Management Framework

Environmental Contaminants biologists from the East Lansing Ecological Services field office partnered with Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), and Michigan DNRE to conduct monitoring, research, and management that guides restoration of the common tern (Sterna hirundo) breeding population in the Detroit River and conduct a workshop to convene agencies, universities, and other scientific advisors to develop a management target and monitoring program for common terns in the Detroit River Area of Concern. Read more


Assessment of Population, Reproductive, and Health Impairments in Colonial Waterbirds Breeding in Michigan’s Areas of Concern

Environmental Contaminants biologists from the East Lansing Ecological Services field office are partnering with Dr. Keith Grasman of Calvin College to investigate and monitor the effects of contaminants on the breeding population numbers, reproduction, and immunological health of fish-eating birds found in the Saginaw Bay and Raisin River Areas of Concern. While laboratory and data analysis are ongoing, initial results suggest significant immunosuppression (i.e., a dramatically suppressed PHA skin response) in young herring gulls, Caspian terns, and black-crowned night herons living on several islands in the Saginaw Bay Area of Concern. Read more



St. Louis River Area of Concern - Twin Cities Field Office Continues Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Work to Restore Habitat

Fish and wildlife habitat in two areas of the St. Louis River (the 40th Ave West Complex and 21st Ave West Complex) are limited by contaminated sediments and other factors. We are working with local and state partners in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to develop ecological design plans. Collection of ecological characterization data in the 40th Ave West Complex was completed in the summer of 2010. Read more 


Twin Cities Field Office Environmental Contaminants Program Investments in Landscape Conservation Result in St. Louis River Habitat Conservation

The Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office celebrated with conservation partners this year the successful conservation acquisition of Clough Island in the St. Louis River after several years of effort and support with the local conservation community.  Long-regarded as the “Jewel of the St. Louis River” estuary, Clough Island provides significant wetland habitat to support migratory waterfowl and Great Lakes fisheries, as well as wooded upland habitat.  Protection of the Island had been identified through potential natural resource damage assessment and restoration actions and other means.  Read more



Environmental Contaminants Program Conducts Off-Refuge Contaminant Investigation

Columbia Missouri Ecological Services Field Office (CMFO) Environmental Contaminants biologists collaborated with R6 biologist and USGS to submit a successful Off-Refuge Contaminant Investigation Proposal to investigate contaminants of emerging concern effects on pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River.  The study is also designed to evaluate the effects of elevated temperature on contaminant availability, and the efficacy of wastewater treatment wetlands in removing contaminants of emerging concern and provides associations with wetland carbon sequestration that would serve to mitigate global climate change.  CMFO EC biologists are working with the MO Fisheries Office and USGS to collect sturgeon and deploy passive samplers in the MO River.



Ashtabula River Area of Concern Remedy Effectiveness

The Ashtabula River was designated by the International Joint Commission as a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) due to contamination from polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  To assess the effectiveness of dredging and removal of ~550,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, Environmental Contaminants (EC) biologists at Ohio Ecological Services Office are coordinating with federal, state, and local partners. Read more 



Service Conducts Screening Level Contaminants Risk Assessment for Fish Passage Project in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Field Office staff in the Environmental Contaminants Program completed a fish passage risk assessment for the Lower Menominee River. The lower Menominee River, a waterway shared between Michigan and Wisconsin, is a designated Area of Concern (AOC) site. The contaminants in the Menominee River AOC area include mercury, PCBs, arsenic, and coal tars. Six BUIs are impaired for the Menominee River AOC; 1) restriction on fish and wildlife consumption, 2) degradation of fish and wildlife populations, 3) beach closings, 4) degradation of benthos 5) restriction on dredging activities, and 6) loss of fish and wildlife habitat.


Dams along the Menominee River have prevented the passage of native fish from accessing important nursery and spawning habitat. The Menominee River is a vital spawning habitat for lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). The reconstruction of dams to allow fish passage is an important aspect of lake sturgeon habitat restoration; however careful mitigation needs to be implemented to protect trust resources from contaminate exposure that could result from this restoration measure. The objectives of the screening level risk assessment were to determine if contaminant levels in fish passing upstream from the AOC area pose exposure risks to trust resources (such as bald eagles that forage on fish) in the upper reaches of the Menominee River. The risk analysis provides guidance for the protection of trust resources and helps to achieve goals associated with lake sturgeon habitat restoration of the Menominee River.



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Last updated: April 2, 2018