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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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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.

Libby Amphibole Asbestos
Libby, Montana, a small town nestled in the northwestern corner of the state, is a humble town, a great destination for anglers and hunters. What many people don't know about Libby, is the lurking danger hanging over the heads of the 3,000 or so Libby residents. Located nearby is an old vermiculite mine that has created a health hazard dealing with asbestos. The old mine was used for acquiring vermiculite, that was used for insulation, shingles, and other construction materials. Imbedded in the vermiculite is a form of asbestos that was released into the air when the vermiculite was processed, creating an abundance of the fibers released into the atmosphere around Libby. The health risk, amplified by human activity, has always been a health hazard due to natural geologic deposits of vermiculite containing asbestos, in and around the Libby area.

Asbestos at Thetford Mines, Quebec Canada
After being the focal point for the economies of nations such as Canada for a century, the asbestos industry looks to be all but dead. The health hazards that this silky-white product presents are now seen to outweigh the benefits of its fire, rust, and rot resistance, tensile strength, and sound absorption.

Health Effects of Coal Combustion In China
Coal is a fossil fuel and when burned in factories it creates massive amounts of smoke that can be harmful to human health. This web page will explain and educate the effects of coal combustion in areas of China where it has become an issue.

Agricultural Pesticides and Human Health
A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest (epa.gov). Pests can be defined as any organism that causes plant diseases. Agricultural pesticides are then those chemicals that are used by farmers to prevent the effectivity of the pests on the growth and productivity of agricultural crops.

Asbestos in the Home
This web page it designed to provide easy access to information about asbestos in order to spread awareness. Asbestos has become a major environmental health hazard. It has been used in many industrial and commercial products that can be found in the home and in the place of work. When asbestos is inhaled it causes sever damage to the lungs which can lead to major health problems including emphysema and, in cases of high exposure, lung cancer.

Volcanic Ash: More Than Just A Science Project
The term "volcano" has its origin from the name of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. However, volcanoes are a result of processes of the earth much older than Roman mythology. While volcanoes may be fun to construct for science class or watch on television, the real consequences of volcanic eruptions can be harmful and serious. Some of these consequences include fires, structure damage, and differences in climate. One of the most deadly effects of a volcano is the ash coming from the eruption, which carries poisonous gases that are harmful to humans, plants, and animals alike.

Health Effects of Radon
Radon is a naturally caused radioactive gas that can infiltrate your home. Knowing where radon comes from and how it gets into your home can help protect you from its negative health effects.

Health Impacts of Selenium Related to Phosphorous Mining
As is true with all substances, the dosage determines the difference between nutrient and poison. In order to understand the impacts of phosphorous mining, a basic understanding of what phosphorous is and why it is mined is first needed.

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.

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