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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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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.

The Health Effects of Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest storms to hit the United States coast within the last 100 years. It devastated New Orleans and caused many health concerns for the public. The water left from the storm left little clean water to use, buildings completely destroyed, and the public at a loss for words. Nothing can truly stop these types of storms, all one can do is know what to look out for and how to protect themselves as best as they can.

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 Hazards from Mining in Butte, Montana
Butte, Montana was once know as "the richest hill on earth" for it's historical extensive mining industry. The area has now transformed into the nation's largest superfund site after much of the mining was shut down and the Berkeley Pit filled up with acidic groundwater with high concentrations of hazardous heavy metals.

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.


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