North-Central Section (36th) and Southeastern Section (51st), GSA Joint Annual Meeting (April 3–5, 2002)

Paper No. 0
Presentation Time: 8:50 AM


BUNNELL, Joseph E., United States Geologic Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, Mail Stop 956, Reston, VA 20192, FINKELMAN, Robert B., U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA 20192 and CENTENO, José A., Biophysical Toxicology Branch, The Joint Pathology Center, Malcolm Grow Medical Center, Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, Silver Spring, MD 20762,

Medical Geology is an emerging discipline that examines links between geologic materials and processes, and the incidence and spatial/temporal distributions of human (and other animal) diseases. Significant health effects have resulted from our interactions with the natural world since the beginnings of human civilization, based on evidence accumulated by researchers from 10,000 years ago. While the connections between the physical environment and human disease have long been recognized, momentum has been building in recent years to solidify and formalize the study of such interactions. New techniques such as remote sensing and the increased sensitivity of analytical instrumentation are enabling researchers to dissect and quantify aspects of environmental health with greater clarity. In partnership with public health professionals, geoscientists today are beginning to understand the role of earth materials and systems in the spread of infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile fever. Analytical characterization of naturally occurring trace elements and toxic organic compounds in coal and ground water is helping to explain patterns of diseases such as arsenosis and fluorosis in China, and a severe kidney disease in the Balkans. Satellites are being used to monitor dust clouds, which carry pathogenic microbes and may induce asthma, as they move across oceans. The medical geology approach is characterizing connections between earthquakes and outbreaks of the respiratory disease Valley Fever. Medical geologists can also help identify and ideally control anthropogenic sources of contaminated drinking water and air pollution, such as pesticides, endocrine disruptors, fine particulate matter, and radionuclides. Therefore, collaboration between the geoscience and biomedical/public health communities offers promise of developing innovative solutions to minimize or prevent exposure to potentially deleterious natural materials and geological processes.