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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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.

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.

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.

Radiation and Cancer
This web page provides information about the different types of radiation, where they come from, how they can impact your health, and what you can do to lower your chances of radiation exposure.

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.

Health Effects of Mercury
Mercury is a devastating neurotoxin that has signficant health consequences in the United States and across every other developed country. Where there is any type of industry there is usually a risk of higher mercury levels effecting every envirnoment. Learn more about how mercury gets into the environment, what the health impacts are, and how to protect yourself from mercury poisoning.

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 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.


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