ARSENIC AND MEDICAL GEOLOGY-A ROLE FOR THE EARTH SCIENTIST IN THE ASSESSMENT AND PREVENTION OF HEALTH RISK
To date, the industrial use and manufacture of arsenic compounds are significantly developed and therefore the anthropogenic (man-made) sources of arsenic exposure include e.g., arsenic-based biocides, arsenic-based wood preservatives, arsenic-based food supplements, arsenic-based medicines. However, industrial poisoning is by far not the most significant arsenic health issue.
In addition, in the last decades geological sources of arsenic exposure have been recognized to contribute to human exposure. Arsenic is a ubiquitous element and it is the 20th most abundant element in the earth crust. Therefore - at the interface of geology and human activities human arsenic exposure from groundwater, soils and coal burning is considered to pose a serious public health risk.
As yet, worldwide environmental chronic poisoning with arsenic exceeds the scope of any industrial or other arsenic poisoning and victimizes millions of people in many areas of the world (e.g. arsenic in drinking water in Bangla Desh, arsenic in coal in China). The continuous environmental exposure to very low levels of arsenic has opened a whole new array of syndromes. Many people suffer from irreversible health effects.
To protect populations at risk prospectively, the health scientist may focus on the early recognition of arsenic exposure and health effects. Biological monitoring of arsenic in urine, blood and hair, and biological-effect monitoring of skin alterations may provide this information. However, the earth scientist may find an important role in the environmental monitoring; not only by analyzing arsenic levels in ground water or soil but also by mapping areas of arsenic containing strata. The prospective use of these data would provide an important contribution to evaluation and prevention of the public health risk.
On this presentation, a representative accidental poisoning case from Surinam and a representative forensic case of lethal intentional arsenic poisoning will be discussed. Both case reports will clarify the recent research opportunities and priorities in arsenic poisoning reflected against the recent public health concerns.