U.S. Geological Survey - Environmental Health

Vol. 4, No. 1 – June 2006

GeoHealth Newsletter

  USGS Activities Related to Human Health
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Mercury Plant in Ukraine

Human Exposure to Mercury in Ukraine

An integrated environmental/human health study is underway in Gorlovka, Ukraine, where elevated levels of mercury occur primarily due to past mercury mining and processing activities. Mine waste from mercury production, and current domestic and industrial use of coal from local sources, contribute to elevated levels of mercury in the environment. The study, Feasibility of Assessing Health Risks from Long-term Mercury Exposure in Gorlovka, Ukraine, funded by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, has been incorporated into U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) project work on Health Effects of Energy Resources. The goals of the work in Gorlovka are to define levels of human exposure to mercury, assess possible health effects to exposed individuals, and determine the feasibility of larger scale epidemiologic studies.

The project involves U.S. participants from the USGS, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and Sciences International, Inc., as well as Ukrainian scientists from the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine Institute for Occupational Health, and Donetsk National Technical University. During a field visit to Gorlovka in August 2005, samples of hair, nails, blood, and urine were taken from a group of 30 workers at a mercury recycling facility on the site of the defunct Nikitovka mercury extraction plant. The scientists also collected environmental samples to assess mercury levels and potential exposure near the mercury mines and over a larger portion of Gorlovka. Further sampling will focus on Gorlovka residents lacking occupational mercury exposure, and residents of a nearby control municipality. This research has the potential to be an important human health case study of mercury exposure.


Navajo students assisting with
                air-quality sampling

Navajo Students Assist in Coal Combustion and Air Quality Study

USGS scientists are collaborating with the Navajo Nation Division of Health on respiratory health issues related to coal combustion products in ambient air and indoor air quality where coal is burned industrially and for home heating. USGS researchers will be assisted by Navajo students this summer (2006) to collect air samples. The samples will be analyzed and compared with samples collected this winter.


USGS Scientist Named Director of the International Medical Geology Association's North American Regional Division

The USGS's Joe Bunnell has accepted the nomination as Director of the newly established North American Regional Division of the International Medical Geology Association (IMGA). The IMGA, formally inaugurated in January 2006, now has established Regional Divisions throughout the world. The Association grew out of interest in Medical Geology that continues to expand worldwide at an increasingly rapid rate. The IMGA should enable the community to better respond to numerous opportunities, to rapidly pass information to those interested in Medical Geology issues, and to make critical decisions that will benefit this emerging scientific discipline.

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 Upcoming Meetings go to top of page 
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Special Session (4.0W) Soils and Human Health, 18th World Congress of Soil Science, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 9-15, 2006

This special session of the World Congress symposium will show the importance of soils and soil properties for human health. Relevant topics include the influence of soil and climatic factors on the content of essential nutrients or naturally occurring toxic substances in plant products, impacts of soil pollution on human health, and the spreading of infectious diseases via atmospheric transport of soil dust. The symposium is a contribution to the ICSU initiative on "Science for Health."

Conference Web Site

Sponsors: Inst.-Plt. Sci.; U.S. Geological Survey; Norwegian University of Science and Technology


Special Session (U07) Health on the Rocks, Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting, Beijing, China, July 24-27, 2006

In 2005 we witnessed and experienced the effects of several natural disasters. These events caused significant loss of life, devastation to the environment, and extensive financial loss and damage to infrastructure. Yet, in 2005 we also saw geoscientists and public health officials become more aware of the relationships between natural geological factors and health in man and animals. This awareness has led to ongoing attempts to understand the influence of ordinary environmental factors on the geographic distribution of various trace elements (I, F, As, Se, Pb, Hg, Co, etc.) that may adversely affect a population's health. The 2006 WPGM is the ideal setting to discuss the status of medical geology investigations worldwide, particularly of those in the western Pacific region. We are seeking submissions that inform and educate as well as lay the groundwork for future collaborations and data sharing.

Meeting Website

Sponsors: U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Geological Survey


Second National Conference on USGS Health-Related Research, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia, September 12-14, 2006

Collaboration between the public health and earth science communities can lead to solutions for existing and emerging environmental health problems. Organizations and individuals interested in environmental and earth science factors affecting human health will be interested in attending this conference, which is designed to provide a broad forum for discussion, bringing together a variety of interested parties, including policy makers, scientists, resource managers, Congressional staffers, and representatives from Federal and State governments and non-governmental organizations.

Conference Web Site

Sponsor: U.S. Geological Survey


Special Session (SP01) Natural Dust and Human Health, 7th International Symposium on Environmental Geochemistry, Beijing, China, September 24-27, 2006

The session will bring together specialists from several disciplines to review the current status of research into naturally-occurring atmospheric aerosols, the nature of fine aerosol dust, variations in its toxicity and its interaction with live tissue, the effects of prolonged exposure to natural toxic dusts, and the epidemiology of lung disease and dust-related conditions in human populations. This session will provide insights into a relatively neglected scientific field of societal importance, with the potential to form the basis of a state-of-the art publication on the subject.

Session Web Site

Sponsors: University of London, UK, University of Bristol, UK, and U.S. Geological Survey


Medical Mineralogy and Geochemistry Short Course, Menlo Park, California, December 9-10, 2006

The objectives of this workshop are to introduce geochemists and mineralogists to the concepts and problems involved with the interactions between geomaterials and the human body, to highlight the importance of mineralogy and crystal chemistry in understanding health issues, and to promote links between mineralogists and geochemists working on medical problems as well as medical scientists working on problems involving geomaterials.

Course Web Site

Sponsors: U.S. Geological Survey; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Stony Brook University, New York

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 New Publications go to top of page 
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Coming Soon!

  • U.S. Geological Survey, in press, Navajo coal and air quality in Shiprock, New Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2006-3094.

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Compiled and Edited by David W. Morganwalp


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