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USGS News: May Science Picks - Rachel Carson and Gold, Mercury and Arsenic in the Environment

USGS Office of Communications
   Science Picks — Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds
   May 2007 Edition

   For Release: UPON RECEIPT

   In 1962, biologist and writer Rachel Carson released “Silent Spring,” a
   book that shed light on the negative effects of pesticides on the
   environment and may have sparked the modern environmental movement. May
   27, 2007, marks the centennial anniversary of Carson’s birth. In honor
   of Carson and her legacy, this edition of Science Picks features ongoing
   USGS studies that could have easily been inspired by her early work.
   Photos and Web links are available to enhance your story. If you would
   like to receive Science Picks via e-mail, would like to change the
   recipient or no longer want to receive it, please e-mail dmakle@xxxxxxxx

   May Highlights

   ·  New Database Provides Information on Fish Endocrine and Reproductive
   ·  Cape Cod Study Points Out Conditions for Arsenic Mobility in
   ·  Fishing for Answers — USGS Scientists Work to Advance Understanding
   of the Conditions Causing Methyl Mercury in Streams
   ·  Collaborative Study Looks for Pesticides in Nation’s Parks and
   ·  Flame Retardants Remain a Burning Issue
   ·  One Era’s Goldmine is Another Era’s Problem
   ·  It's in Their Blood — Mercury, That Is
   ·  Tortoise Shells Tell Arsenic Tales
   ·  Get LIDAR Data With Just One CLICK
   ·  MUSIC Helps Resource Managers Make Sound Decisions
   ·  Learn More About Rachel Carson

   LEADS (top news, updates and happenings in natural science)

   New Database Provides Information on Fish Endocrine and Reproductive
   Health: Recently the USGS released a national database that reports on
   endocrine and reproductive conditions in two species of fish. This is
   the first national database of endocrine information for fish collected
   in U.S. streams and rivers. The information in the report provides a
   vital national basis for comparison that will be used by scientists
   studying endocrine disruption at sites across the country. The database
   includes information on sex steroid hormones, vitellogenin — an egg
   protein that indicates exposure to estrogenic substances when found in
   male fish — and reproductive stage for common carp and largemouth bass.
   Data summaries are provided by reproductive season across a wide
   geographic scale. Check out the database at
   http://fisc.er.usgs.gov/endocrine_biomarkers, or contact Steve Goodbred
   at 916-278-9492 or goodbred@xxxxxxxxx

   Cape Cod Study Points Out Conditions for Arsenic Mobility in Groundwater
   : Did you know the release of naturally occurring arsenic from sediments
   can adversely affect groundwater quality, even when the concentration of
   arsenic in the sediments is low? USGS hydrological experiments show
   abundant nitrate and iron levels in groundwater can affect the mobility
   of trace amounts of arsenic. Learn about USGS field experiments on Cape
   Cod designed to understand the processes that control arsenic mobility
   in groundwater at http://ma.water.usgs.gov/CapeCodToxics/ or contact
   Douglas Kent at 650-329-4461 or dbkent@xxxxxxxxx

   Fishing for Answers — USGS Scientists Work to Advance Understanding of
   the Conditions Causing Methyl Mercury in Streams: As in many places
   across the nation, there are fish consumption advisories for some
   Montana streams due to high mercury concentrations. USGS scientists and
   their colleagues have been studying two Montana streams to determine
   what controls the concentration of the highly toxic methyl mercury. USGS
   research shows that mercury concentrations in streams vary based on
   daily fluctuations in temperature, sunlight intensity, and other
   factors—the findings suggest that even though mercury concentrations in
   these streams were low, the concentrations in fish were high enough that
   anglers are advised to limit consumption of their catch. For more
   information about mercury and the environment, go to
   http://toxics.usgs.gov/investigations/mercury.html, or contact David
   Nimick at 406-457-5918 or dnimick@xxxxxxxxx

   Collaborative Study Looks for Pesticides in Nation’s Parks and Refuges:
   It’s easy to assume that national parks and wildlife refuges are places
   where wildlife are protected from the impacts of society and industry. A
   new study of the occurrence of pesticides in vernal pools used as
   amphibian habitat at national parks in three states, however, showed
   that none were totally free of pesticides, and several pesticides were
   present at some locations. To find out more about this study, conducted
   by the USGS, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
   Service, contact William Battaglin at 303-236-4882, ext. 256, or
   wbattagl@xxxxxxxxx For more information on pesticide occurrence in U.S.
   streams and groundwater, see
   http://toxics.usgs.gov/topics/agchemicals.html or

   Flame Retardants Remain a Burning Issue: For many years, flame
   retardants in clothing, electronics and furnishings have been regarded
   as a protective benefit, but as time passes, science may prove
   otherwise. Consider this: Flame retardants have been found in
   fish-eating osprey and the eggs of double-crested cormorants sampled in
   Oregon and Washington. One specific group of retardants, generally known
   as PBDEs, is believed to move up the food chain to accumulate in animal
   tissues. For humans, these compounds are believed to disrupt thyroid
   hormone action and impair the development of the nervous system. Trends
   suggest the levels of the compounds found in fish are doubling, every
   two to four years. Additional osprey egg sampling in 2007 is planned
   along the lower Columbia River to evaluate changes in PBDE
   concentrations since 2004 and potential reproductive effects on the
   species. For more information, contact Charles Henny at 541-757-4840 or

   One Era’s Goldmine is Another Era’s Problem: For more than 140 years,
   tailings associated with historic gold and silver mining have washed
   into the floodplain of the Carson River in western Nevada. USGS
   scientists are documenting how the river itself now mines the tailings,
   annually releasing mercury into the water, especially during high-flow
   years. Mercury compounds tend to be much more toxic than the element
   itself, with methyl mercury (MeHg) being one of the most toxic forms
   produced in aquatic systems. MeHg also readily moves up food chains to
   waterbirds, with young fish-eating birds appearing to be especially
   susceptible to its toxic effects. To learn more about relationships
   between streamflow, mercury exposure to aquatic birds and toxic effects
   to wildlife based on the USGS’ long-term study, contact Charles Henny at
   541-757-4840 or charles_j_henny@xxxxxxxxx

   It's in Their Blood — Mercury, That Is: So what’s the common feather
   among some waterbirds in the San Francisco Bay Delta? They share the
   legacy of mercury contamination from historical mercury and gold mining
   in California. They also are the focus of a large collaborative project
   being conducted by biologists from the USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
   Service, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, and PRBO Conservation
   Science. The project includes capturing and radio-marking birds to track
   their movements and habitat use, sampling bird blood and feathers for
   mercury concentrations and chemical signatures of diet, monitoring
   nesting success, and examining chick movements and survival. Scientists
   are investigating the risks of mercury to waterbirds breeding within the
   estuary. Initiated in 2005, the study has shown that 5 percent of
   black-necked stilts, 6 percent of American avocets, 10 percent of
   Caspian terns, and 58 percent of Forster’s terns breeding within South
   Bay sites had blood mercury concentrations high enough to be at risk of
   reproductive impairment. To learn more, contact Josh Ackerman at
   530-752-0485 or jackerman@xxxxxxxxx

   Tortoise Shells Tell Arsenic Tales:  USGS scientists have found that the
   outer layer of a tortoise’s shell, which has growth scales, provides a
   chronology of elemental uptake from a tortoise’s environment. Desert
   tortoises are long-lived plant-eaters that spend much of their lives in
   contact with dust, soil and sediments, including potentially toxic
   elements. A survey of 66 elements in soil, stream sediment, and plant
   samples from six tortoise study areas in the Mojave and Colorado deserts
   has revealed arsenic in anomalous concentrations region-wide. Arsenic
   has been linked to both shell and respiratory diseases in desert
   tortoises. The highest concentrations occurred in soils and plants in or
   near areas contaminated by mining of arsenic-rich ores. For more
   information, contact Kristin Berry at 951-697-5361 or
   kristin_berry@xxxxxxxx; Maurice Chaffee at 303-236-1855 or
   mchaffee@xxxxxxxx or Andrea Foster at 650-329-5437 or afoster@xxxxxxxxx

   FEEDS (USGS tools and resources)

   Get LIDAR Data With Just One CLICK: The Center for LIDAR Information
   Coordination and Knowledge (CLICK) web portal allows LIDAR users to
   download available LIDAR datasets, ask and answer questions and
   coordinate with those looking for data or with data available to share.
   CLICK enables partners and potential partners to coordinate efforts to
   collect LIDAR data and make it widely available, thereby reducing costs
   to all interested parties. Find out more at http://lidar.cr.usgs.gov, or
   contact Jordan Menig at 605-594-6892 or jmenig@xxxxxxxxx

   MUSIC Helps Resource Managers Make Sound Decisions: Have questions about
   research efforts — water allocation issues in Hawaii, mountaintop mining
   in West Virginia, sage grouse ecosystem restoration and development
   issues in Colorado, Nevada and California? Try MUSIC (Massachusetts
   Institute of Technology-USGS Science Impact Collaborative). MUSIC is
   helping resource managers develop tools and methods for a more effective
   uses of science to solve natural resource management and environmental
   policy issues. For more information, check out
   http://web.mit.edu/dusp/epp/music/, or contact Herman Karl at
   617-324-0262 or hkarl@xxxxxxxxx

   STORY SEEDS (points to ponder or investigate)

   Learn More About Rachel Carson: The USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
   Service Patuxent Research Refuge and the Rachel Carson Council are
   holding a week-long Rachel Carson celebration that will feature events,
   ceremonies and displays honoring Carson’s exciting career. To learn more
   about these events, go to

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