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Earth Materials and Health: Research Priorities for Earth Science and Public Health
The nature and extent of our interactions with the natural environment have a profound impact on human well-being. Earth science includes the broad subdisciplines of geology, geophysics, geochemistry, geomorphology, soil science, hydrology, mineralogy, remote sensing, mapping, climatology, volcanology, physical geography, and seismology. As such, earth science describes a substantial component of this natural environment, encompassing the key terrestrial materials, associations, and processes that have both beneficial and adverse impacts on public health. Despite this association between public health and the natural environment, geologists, geophysicists, and geochemists have intensively studied the earth for the past two centuries with only passing appreciation for the impacts of the geological substrate, earth materials, and earth processes on human health. Similarly, although health scientists have a rapidly expanding understanding of individual physiology and the epidemiology of human populations on local to global scales, most modern public health practitioners have only limited awareness of the extent to which the earth environment impinges on public health.
Although valuable linkages do currently exist between the earth science and public health communities, the limited extent of interdisciplinary cooperation has restricted the ability of scientists and public health workers to solve a range of complex environmental health problems, with the result that the considerable potential for increased knowledge at the interface of earth science and public health has been only partially realized. The linkage of earth science and public health is not about the relevance of earth science knowledge to health, or vice versa—rather, the