ducts a number of health-related activities to improve understanding of the links between human health and geological processes, including research on the distribution and health effects of asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, radon, selenium, and uranium; water quality monitoring; hazard forecasting; and bacterial and viral transport in groundwater. The USGS has the mandate to carry out national soil mapping, and a detailed map of the nation’s soil resources could form the geochemical framework for a significant component of the priority research at the interface of earth science and public health noted in this report. The USGS also supports the Human Health Database,1 which provides information about the national distribution of arsenic, radon, and mercury as well as land cover datasets and mineral resources spatial data. In collaboration with NIH–NIEHS, the USGS created the Environmental Mercury Mapping, Modeling, and Analysis website to support environmental and health care researchers as well as land and resource managers. Although this program does not fund research at either the agency or academic level, it provides consolidated information in the form of maps and data for research support.
The value of interdisciplinary research has been convincingly documented in another NRC report (NRC, 2004d), which provides a comprehensive description of the barriers to collaborative research and suggests strategies for overcoming these barriers. For the specific case of earth science and public health, a variety of activities could be supported to further the implementation of interdisciplinary research agendas including:
Funding of new interdisciplinary collaborative centers. One approach with the potential to encourage true collaboration is the “Center-Based Approach” epitomized by the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP). In this collaborative model, diverse groups of scientists and engineers are mandated to collaborate on different aspects of specific issues. Major funding is provided to approximately 20 universities nationally, with each university focusing on a specific set of issues involving the cleanup or remediation of superfund sites. To be successful, applicants must have both toxicology components and environmental science components. The superfund program has been extremely successful and illustrates that major funding is an effective mechanism to promote true collaboration and innovative approaches to complex issues.