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Earth Materials and Health: Research Priorities for Earth Science and Public Health
plore avenues for interdisciplinary research that would further knowledge at the interface between the earth science and public health disciplines. The study committee was charged to advise on the high-priority research activities that should be undertaken for optimum societal benefit, to describe the most profitable areas for communication and collaboration between the earth science and public health communities, and to respond to specific tasks:
Describe the present state of knowledge in the emerging medical geology field.
Describe the connections between earth science and public health, addressing both positive and negative societal impacts over the full range from large-scale interactions to microscale biogeochemical processes.
Evaluate the need for specific support for medical geology research and identify any basic research needs in bioscience and geoscience required to support medical geology research.
Identify mechanisms for enhanced collaboration between the earth science and medical/public health communities.
Suggest how future efforts should be directed to anticipate and respond to public health needs and threats, particularly as a consequence of environmental change.
The committee addressed this charge by focusing its analysis on human exposure pathways—what we breathe, what we drink, what we eat, and our interactions with earth materials through natural and anthropogenic earth perturbations (e.g., natural disasters, land cover modifications, natural resource use). Specific examples for each exposure pathway are presented to highlight the state of existing knowledge, before listing priority collaborative research activities for each exposure pathway. These research activities are grouped into three broad crosscutting themes: (1) improved understanding of the source, fate, transport, bioavailability, and impact of potentially hazardous or beneficial earth materials; (2) improved risk-based hazard mitigation, based on improved understanding of the public health effects of natural hazards under existing and future climatic regimes; and (3) research to understand the health risks arising from disturbance of terrestrial systems as the basis for prevention of new exposures. The committee received suggestions for broad research initiatives and specific research activities from national and international participants from the earth science, public health, and government funding communities at an open workshop, and these suggestions formed the basis for deliberations to identify the research themes considered by the committee