tion on the relatively direct geological drivers of human health. Recent NRC reports have described interactions between human health issues and the oceans (NRC, 1999d) and between human health and the atmosphere (NRC, 2001a); accordingly, this committee focused on the continental environment and only considered oceanic and the atmospheric effects on human health through their interactions with on-land geology (e.g., volcanic emanations, particulate matter). The committee excluded the extremely important domain of agriculture as beyond its purview.
The recent publication of two major texts on the earth sciences and health (Skinner and Berger, 2003; Selinus et al., 2005) reflects the increased attention being focused by researchers on important interactions between these fields. Together, these books provide a comprehensive description of current understanding of the relationship between the natural environment and public health, as well as numerous examples describing the connections and interactions between these fields. Rather than attempt to cover the same material, the NRC committee sought to build on these works by focusing its endeavors on understanding the vast array of potential research directions at the interface of earth science and public health and to identify those that it considers to have the highest priority.
The process of identifying the priority research areas presented in this report was based on the discussions and conclusions at the open workshop hosted by the committee. The four workshop breakout groups—in each case coordinated by a committee member and including members of the earth science, public health, and governmental communities—reported back with recommendations that described important research areas for the committee’s consideration. The committee focused on those areas that required full collaboration by both earth science and public health researchers and did not consider the numerous examples of valuable research topics that could be undertaken primarily within one of these research disciplines without requiring significant participation by the other.
When members of two distinct professional communities who have traditionally had little interaction come together on a study committee such as this, it is not surprising that issues of vocabulary and definition rapidly emerge. Recognizing that acceptance of the recommendations contained here by both communities will, to some extent, depend on both being able to easily understand the presentation of the ideas and concepts without either feeling that there is an overlay of technical jargon, the committee has attempted to ensure that such jargon is kept to a minimum throughout the report. In some cases, this has resulted in ideas, concepts, and situations being presented in a somewhat simplistic manner; nevertheless, the committee considers that such simplicity is essential. This approach is reflected in Chapter 2, where basic earth science concepts are