Agricultural and urban activities result in the release of a large number of organic compounds that are suspected of impacting human health and ecosystems: herbicides, insecticides, human and veterinary pharmaceuticals, natural and synthetic hormones, personal care products, surfactants, plasticizers, fire retardants, and others. Sorbed reservoirs of these compounds in soil represent a potentially chronic source of water contamination. This article is an introduction to a series of technical papers stemming from a symposium at the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America 2008 Annual Meeting, which was held jointly with The Geological Society of America, The Gulf Coast Association of Geological Scientists, and the Houston Geological Society, under one of the Joint Meeting's overarching themes: Emerging Trace Contaminants in Surface and Ground Water Generated from Waste Water and Solid Waste Application The symposium emphasized the role of soils as sources, sinks, and reaction catalysts for these contaminants and the occurrence and fate of these contaminants in surface and underground water supplies. Topics covered included novel advances in analytical techniques, transport of infectious agents, occurrence and fate of veterinary pharmaceuticals, characterization of sorption mechanism, biotic and abiotic transformation reactions, the role of soil components, occurrence and fate in wastewater treatment systems, transport of engineered nanoparticles, groundwater contamination resulting from urban runoff, and issues in water reuse. Overviews of the reports, trends, gaps in our knowledge, and topics for further research are presented in this special series of papers. The technical papers in this special series reflect current gains in knowledge and simultaneously underscore how poorly we are able to predict the fate and, hence, the associated risk to ecological and human receptors of these contaminants.