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Earth Materials and Health: Research Priorities for Earth Science and Public Health
provide a broad range of research opportunities for both individual investigators and collaborative groups. High-priority collaborative research activities are:
Development of improved scenarios for risk-based hazard mitigation. Integrated multidisciplinary approaches to scenario development as the basis for natural hazard mitigation strategies are in their infancy. Any assessment of population vulnerability is dependent on the merging of earth science information describing the spatial distribution of hazards with public health information describing population characteristics and medical response capabilities. Effective scenarios to form the basis of improved response strategies must be scientifically valid and believable for broad acceptance by those charged with disaster response planning. The scientific validation will require collaborative involvement of a broad range of experts from the earth science, public health, emergency management, and engineering communities. Existing tools (e.g., HAZUS for earthquake loss estimation, EPISIM for epidemic simulation, HRAI for hazard risk assessment for public health) provide an indication of the potential for natural hazard mitigation but also emphasize how much is still required in many parts of the nation for the development of improved response capabilities.
Analysis of the effect of geomorphic and hydrological land surface alteration on disease ecology, including emergence/resurgence andtransmission of disease. Major changes in land use result in profound habitat fragmentation, ecological compartmentalization edge effects, runoff from impervious man-made surfaces, groundwater and/or surface water degradation, and partial or complete loss of habitat—all of which influence disease incidence. The effects of such land surface modifications on the bioaccessibility of disease vectors responsible for disease outbreaks, deleterious chronic disease levels, and human senescence need to be measured individually and collectively in order to better safeguard public health. This will require a seamless integration of geological, hydrological, and epidemiological research efforts in order to prevent, or at least minimize, the adverse effects of land use change on human populations.
Successful collaboration involving earth and health science researchers will allow development of accurate predictive risk assessment models and thus avoidance—or at least amelioration—of a broad spectrum of environmentally related diseases. Because prevention is more effective than medical treatment of diseases, in the long run such cooperative integrated earth science–public health investigations has the potential to save substantial sums of money as well as markedly enhance the quality of life.