US Geological Survey


Date of this Version

Summer 2010


The Wildlife Professional 4:2 (2010), pp 24-30.


US Government work


Two recent events [the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Asarco settlement] bring to the fore the work of wildlife toxicologists. Focusing on amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, wildlife toxicology is a component of ecotoxicology--the study of toxic effects caused by natural or synthetic pollutants on living organisms and other constituents of ecosystems (Truhaut 1977). Now a distinct discipline within the wildlife profession-practiced by members of The Wildlife Society's own Wildlife Toxicology Working Group, among others-wildlife toxicology has become increasingly important as human populations and industry have spread, causing contaminants to multiply.

Emerging Environmental Contaminants (EECs) include an array of chemicals and substances that are discharged into the environment. According to the U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (2006), EECs include veterinary and human antibiotics, human drugs, industrial and household wastewater products, and sex and steroidal hormones. Beyond these four groupings, some experts also include phthalates that are used as plasticizers, chemicals used for disinfection in homes and industries, flame retardants, and extremely small particulates or nanomaterials (GRAC 2008, Sadler et al. 2003).

Studies by wildlife toxicologists have only skimmed the surface of how the thousands of chemicals in the environment affect wildlife, and new regulations and novel applications of old laws are constantly changing how toxicologists approach their work. Recent lawsuits brought against the EPA by the Center for Biological Diversity, for example, note that pesticides used on the landscape may be impacting endangered species in violation of the ESA (CBD 2010). "That's really driving a lot of EPA attention right now," says Exponent's Anne Fairbrother, "and I think that's likely to continue." Wildlife toxicologists will help determine the impacts on at-risk species. With so many questions to answer about the ecological effects of contaminants on wildlife, wildlife toxicologists have more than enough work for many decades of productive scientific research .