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Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center

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Earth Materials and Human Health


Earth materials generated by both natural and anthropogenic processes have been increasingly recognized as potential sources of illness in humans. For example, inhalation exposures to asbestos, silica, and some metal-rich dusts in industrial or occupational settings have been recognized for decades as triggers for certain diseases. Health concerns also arise from exposures to other anthropogenic atmospheric particulates, such as automobile exhaust, urban air pollution, smelting and coal combustion byproducts, and debris from building demolition and incidents such as the World Trade Center collapse. Increasingly, environmental exposures to dusts and other atmospheric particulates (such as naturally-occurring asbestos, silica, volcanic ash, volcanic gas condensates, wildfire smoke, and dusts containing pathogens) are also being recognized as potential health concerns. Soils are recognized for their potential to affect human health—as sources for dusts, sources for pathogens, and as sources for toxicity via any contained toxicants such as heavy metals or organic chemicals.

The Earth Materials and Human Health Project (EMHHP), in collaboration with medical and public health experts, developed and applied a variety of earth science methods to help interpret the geologic links between earth materials and human health problems. The project's scientific results provide a sound earth science basis for more informed, effective regulatory policies and remediation strategies.

The project was funded primarily by the USGS Mineral Resources Program (MRP), with some additional funding from the Earth Surface Dynamics Program. The project was a follow-up of the MRP-funded Mineral Dusts and Human Health Project (MDHHP), which ran from fiscal years 2001-2004; key MDHHP activities, outcomes and publications are presented in a separate web site.

This project involved extensive collaboration with other USGS personnel and projects, and also health experts in a number of Federal and state agencies. Examples of other USGS projects with which this project collaborated include the Near-Surface Processes, Industrial Minerals, Southwest Climate Change, Transoceanic Dusts, Surveys and Analysis, Geochemical Landscapes, and Wildfire Effects projects. Health experts with whom the project collaborated include scientists from USEPA, NIOSH, OSHA, CDC, ATSDR, Public Health Service, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, University of Arizona, University of Colorado, SUNY Stonybrook, and other agencies and universities.

Project Tasks

Project Highlights

Project Publications and Presentations

Project Chiefs

Gregory Meeker
Phone: (303) 236-1081

Geoff Plumlee
Phone: (303) 236-1204

Related Links

Health Effects of Minerals Dusts

USGS Spectroscopy Laboratory

USGS Environmental Health Topics Page

Mineral Resources Program
Eastern Central GMEG Alaska Minerals Information Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Spatial Data

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