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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.

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.

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 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.

Radiation and Nuclear Health Hazards
When we think of radiation we may immediately think of only dangerous and harmful things. In reality, the word radiation refers to any transfer of energy through space from a source. Some examples of radiation include sunlight, radio waves, x-rays, heat, alpha, beta, gamma ionizing radiation, and infrared, just to name a few. Not all of these types of radiation are harmful, in fact, in moderation, most radiation will not pose a health risk. Certain types of radiation, however, can be dangerous, even in small doses.

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.

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.

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