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Environmental Fate and Transport of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC)

Project Chief:
Period of Project: 2003-present
Cooperator(s): Ft Gordon Dept of Army
Additional Links:
Emerging Contaminants Podcast:

Fort Gordon, Georgia
Fort Gordon U.S. Army


The contaminants of historical environmental focus (conventional priority pollutants) are a small fraction of the known and unknown chemicals that are potential environmental contaminants. Many of these “emerging” contaminants have been in use and, by extension, have been present in the environment for many years. However, they typically occur in the environment at concentrations well below historical ppb to ppm analytical detection limits. Consequently, the environmental impacts of these contaminants have gone largely unrecognized or undefined, due to a lack of analytical methods of sufficient sensitivity and resolution to allow detection at environmentally relevant concentrations.

The potential impacts of contaminants of emerging concern (CEC) on the environment, in general, and on natural surface-water and riparian ecosystems, in particular, are a critical environmental management issue in the U.S. and Europe. CEC is a “catch-all” phrase that refers to a wide range of chemicals, which occurrence in and potential impacts on the environment have long been suspected but only recently validated with the advent of sensitive modern analytical capabilities. The CEC umbrella covers several broad classes of contaminants that include: pharmaceuticals and personal care products, organic wastewater compounds, antimicrobials, antibiotics, animal and human hormones, as well as domestic and industrial detergents.

All pictures are taken in Fourmile Creek, Ankeny, Iowa; left to right: 1) Measuring dissolved oxygen in Fourmile Creek, 2) Macroinvertebrate hatch traps deployed in Fourmile Creek to assess CEC in emergent insects, 3) Installation of piezometers to assess pharmaceuticals and other CEC in groundwater and surface water at Fourmile Creek, and 4) Piezometer network at Fourmile Creek, with wastewater treatment facility outfall in background.



Project assesses the fate, transport, and potential for in situ biodegradation of CEC, which are detected in U.S. surface-water systems as a result of residential, industrial, and agricultural wastewater releases. A long-term, systematic research approach is employed to provide a scientific foundation for using the environment’s intrinsic assimilative capacity to manage CEC environmental risk. Research focuses on the potential for and mechanisms of biodegradation for a wide range of CEC in wastewater-impacted surface water systems. Understanding the fate of diverse classes of CEC is a crucial element of the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and vital to the management of the environmental health risks of these anthropogenic substances. Continued assessment of the potential for CEC biodegradation is required to develop best management practices for individual surface-water systems and specific compound classes. Current research priorities include evaluating the biodegradation potential for: 1) select waste water indicator compounds, 2) the nonionic surfactant and demonstrated non-steroidal endocrine-disrupting compound, 4-nonylphenol; 3) the human sex hormones, estrone, estradiol, and testosterone; 4)  the antibacterial, triclocarban; and 5) the endocrine disrupter, bisphenol‑A.

Metal pipe containing storm tide sensor strapped to a power pole.

Image showing structure of the human sex hormones Estradiol, Estrone and Testosterone.








  • Impacts of Ankeny WWTP Closure on Water Quality and Ecology in Fourmile Creek, Iowa
  • Impacts of Ft Gordon WWTP Closure on Water Quality and Ecology in Spirit Creek, Georgia
  • Environmental Factors Affecting CEC Biodegradation in Surface-Water Systems


  • Bradley, P.M. and C.A. Journey. 2014. Assessment of endocrine-disrupting-chemicals attenuation in a Coastal Plain stream prior to wastewater treatment plant closure. J. American Water Resources Association.
  • Bradley, P.M. and J.H. Writer. 2014. Effect of light on biodegradation of estrone, 17β-estradiol and 17α-ethinylestradiol in stream sediment. J. American Water Resources Association.
  • Bradley, P.M., L.B. Barber, J.W. Duris, W.T. Foreman, E.T. Furlong. L.E. Hubbard, K.J. Hutchinson, S.H. Keefe, and D.W. Kolpin. 2014. Riverbank filtration potential of pharmaceuticals in a wastewater-impacted stream. Environmental Pollution. 193:173-180. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2014.06.028
  • Bradley, P.M. and D.W. Kolpin. 2013. Managing the impacts of endocrine disrupting chemicals in wastewater-impacted streams. Chapter 1 in P.M. Bradley Ed. Current Perspectives in Contaminant Hydrology and Water Resources Sustainability. InTech, DOI: 10.5772/54337, Pp 3-26.
  • Writer, J.H., L.B. Barber, J. Ryan, and P.M. Bradley. 2011. Biodegradation and Attenuation of Steroidal Hormones and Alkylphenols by Stream Biofilms and Sediments. Environmental Science and Technology. 45(10): 4370-4376.
  • Bradley, P.M., L.B. Barber, F.H Chapelle, J.L Gray, D.W. Kolpin, and P.B. McMahon. 2009. Biodegradation of 17β-estradiol, estrone, and testosterone in stream sediments. Environmental Science & Technology. 43(6): 1902-1910.
  • Barber, L.B., M.T. Meyer, D.R. LeBlanc, D.W. Kolpin, P.M. Bradley, F.H. Chapelle, and F. Rubio. 2009. Subsurface fate and transport of 4-Nonylphenol, 17β-Estradiol, and sulfamethoxazole. Environmental Science and Technology. 43(13): 4843-4850.
  • Bradley, P.M., L.B. Barber, D.W. Kolpin, P.B. McMahon, and F.H. Chapelle. 2008. Potential for 4-n-nonylphenol biodegradation in stream sediments. Environmnetal Toxicology & Chemistry. 28(2): 260-265.
  • Bradley, P.M., L.B. Barber, D.W. Kolpin, P.B. McMahon, and F.H. Chapelle. 2007. Biotransformation of caffeine, cotinine, and nicotine in stream sediments: implications for use as waste-water indicators. Environmnetal Toxicology & Chemistry. 26(6): 1116-1121.
  • Bradley, P.M., S.A. Carr, R. Baird, and F.H. Chapelle. 2005. Biodegradation of N-Nitrosodimethylamine in soil from a water reclamation facility. Bioremediation Journal. 9(2):115-120.


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