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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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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.

Lead in Drinking Water
Lead is rarely found in source water but can enter drinking water via corrosion in pipes. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder. However, even newer homes are still at risk. Legally "lead free" pipes may contain up to 8 percent lead. More information on lead's health effects, sources, transport, and prevention tactics are contained within this page.

Chromium and its negative effects on the environment
Chromium comes in a plethora of forms and shapes in nature; it is a naturally occurring element (Atomic Mass #24), and can be both helpful and harmful to human health and the environment.

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.

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.

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.

Airborne Dust Particles
Airborne dust is particle, or Particulate Matter (PM), pollution, and is one of the most significant air pollutants in Pima County. PM is made up of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets (a fraction of the thickness of a human hair) that float in the air we breathe. Because they are so small, you cannot see individual particles, but you can sometimes see the haze that is formed when millions of particles blur the spread of sunlight.

Arsenic: is it a "Real Killer"
Arsnenic is notoriously poisonous to the multicellular life. Many types of bacteria use Arsenic as respiratory metabolites. Arsenic in the ground water is a real problem to millions of people across the world and also more gold miners are being exposed and because of the mining arsenic is starting to go airborn and spreading and creating a real problem with 3rd world countries. Arsenic is a chemical element which occurs in many minerals, in conjunction to sulfer and metals, and in its pure form is crystalized. It is a natural element in its pure state As as a one compound isotope. Some of the risk to human health with arsenic is cancer to the lungs, stomach, and respiratory tract. Chronic exposure to aresenic can lead to dermatitis, mild pigmentation of the skin, vasospasticity, wart formation, decreased nerve conduction velocity, and lung cancer. Acute exposures can cause lung distress and death. To help prevent form arsenic poisoning wear gloves, masks and protective clothing when working with arsenic treated wood. If you live in high arsenic level areas filter your water and if you have well water get it tested.

"Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products"
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) have been polluting our water and soil ever since prescription drugs and beauty products have been readily available to the public. While there is no end in sight for the demand of such items, research in this field is extremely important in order to discover how it is truly effecting the world's populations and how to mitigate the pollution levels.

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.

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