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Geology and Human Health Case Studies Collection

These case studies were developed by students in the 2012 introductory-level Geology and Human Health course offered by the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. This course is offered for non-geoscience majors and counts for our Core Curriculum credit in the Contemporary Issues in Science rubric.


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Airborne Microbes
In order to educate you about airborne microbes in different environments, I will let you know a little bit about when, where and how you can find these little, microscopic buggers and what kind of affect they'll have on you or your family. Everyone has their own natural microorganisms that live on, in and around their own bodies. These bacteria are known as natural flora and our own bodies (specifically the immune system) recognize that they are good for us. We, as humans, would not survive without such creatures. However, this website gives information regarding pathogenic microorganisms in general. That is, things that you can't see causing physical harm.

What Will Climate Change Mean for Lyme Disease?
The first case of Lyme disease to be reported in the United States was in the town of Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. The disease is caused by a bite of a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) leading to a bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi). With the impending changes to the climate, scientists expect to see the reported cases of Lyme disease to increase, as well as the disease to be able to occur in areas it previously had not. Arming yourself with knowledge of the signs and symptoms of the infection is paramount for those who spend time outdoors.

Silicon, Silicates and Silicosis
If you are exposed to dust in the atmosphere from natural or human-caused sources, you may be at risk for permanent health damage due to silicosis. To find out more about the risks, health impacts, and ways to protect yourself please read on.

Health Effects of Pesticides in The Great Lakes
The use of pesticides was not as common 10,000 years ago as it is today. Around 1945 "pesticides became common in most areas of the world" (W.R. Carlile). Pesticides are used to prevent unwanted pest (living organisms that occur where they are NOT wanted or cause damage to crops, or humans, or animals). Pesticides are hazardous chemicals that help destroy pest but are putting are environment at risk.

Health Effects from British Petroleum Oil Spill
The British Petroleum oil spill made history on April 20, 2010. An explosion on the drilling platform caused the oil rig to begin sinking and as the oil rig sunk, millions of gallons of oil began dissipating into the Gulf of Mexico with no way to try and stop it. As the oil continued to leak out into the open ocean, not only sea life became endangered, human health did as well. Once the ocean became polluted with oil, it was only a matter of time until the effects began weighing on human health.

Arsenic in Bangladesh
There are an estimated 70 million people currently at risk for arsenic poisoning in the the Bangladesh area, resulting in a major health crisis and need for clean water. The effects of Arsenic poisoning are gruesome, and take effect after many years of drinking arsenic contaminated water.

Smoke and Ash Inhalation Related to Wildfires
The number one cause of death when it comes to fires is smoke inhalation. Smoke inhalation damages the body by asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), chemical irritation, or a combination of the two. Smoke itself can be harmless to you but it takes up the space needed for oxygen, similar to carbon dioxide. Smoke inhalation is especially dangerous because people may not show symptoms until 24 to 48 hours after the event. An estimated 50-80% of fire deaths are from inhalation, not burns.

Nuclear Mitigation Measures at the Department of Energy's Hanford Nuclear Site
Since humans first started working with nuclear processes, we have had the problem of safely storing and containing the tailings of these. The Hanford Site, ran by the Department of Energy, has thought of and is currently building a 65 acre facility to take care of this very large problem.

Plastics in the Ocean Affecting Human Health
Over a few decades, humans have managed to dump tons upon tons of garbage into the ocean. Of the most devastating elements of this pollution is that plastics takes thousands of years to decay. As a result, fish and wildlife are becoming intoxicated. Consequently the toxins from the plastics have entered the food chain, threatening human health. In the most polluted places in the ocean, the mass of plastic exceeds the amount of plankton six times over. This is a large piece of evidence that leaves the problem of polluted oceans undeniable. It is upsetting that more of clean up effort is not taking place.

Potential Health and Environmental Effects of Hydrofracking in the Williston Basin, Montana
Hydrofracking is a controversial oil and gas extraction technique developed in the late 1940s to gain access to fossil energy deposits previously inaccessible to drilling operations. The process, "hydraulic fracturing", literally involves the smashing of rock with millions of gallons of water–along with sand and a undisclosed assortment of chemicals in order to bring gas to the surface.

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