Introduction to Medical Geology

Topics to be Covered:

  • Introduction and Overview
  • Introduction to the Origins of Global Medical Geology
  • Metals in Human Physiology – Essentiality, Toxicity, Bioavailability and Risk Assessment
  • Health Impacts of Climate Change – A Medical Geology Perspective
  • Health Impacts of Dust, Soils, and Clay
  • A Medical Geology Perspective of Arsenic as a Poison – Risk Assessment Approach
  • Integrating Public Health, Earth Science, and Policy
  • Population Health – An Epidemiological Approach
  • Health Benefits of Rocks and Minerals and the Future of Medical Geology

Course Description:
Natural materials such as rocks, minerals, soil, natural dust, and contaminated water as well as geologic processes such as volcanic emissions and earthquakes, have and continue to be a major factor in determining the impact of the natural environment in the health of people around the world. In this short course, we will examine these geologic materials and processes to explore the varied and surprising ways they impact human and animal health, usually causing widespread and severe health problems but also producing unanticipated beneficial effects. Principal topics covered will include: basics of toxicology; an overview of geologic materials and processes; examples of how trace elements, minerals, and ambient dust impact human health; examples of how climate change may impact human health. Our aim is to provide a forum by which geoscientists and biomedical/public health researchers are teaming to find practical solutions to health problems associated with the natural geogenic environment, and how we can use principles of geology, chemistry, toxicology, and health sciences to better inform medical studies, public policy, and legal requirements.

Course Design:
This course has been designed and developed including considerations on pedagogy, content, instructional/reference materials available, potential availability of lab and field work, and student selection criteria of a research project. The instructional approach and selection of topics is strongly based on the evolutional changes and environmental management decisions that have shaped the geosciences and public health needs throughout the world. The student will be encouraged to evaluate the broader social (as well as legal) impacts, as well as need for integration within these disciplines, and across traditional sciences boundaries, fostering a multi-disciplinary, multi-investigator and multi-institutional science.

Traditionally, a class session will be offered once-per-week. Every class will cover a different topic with relevant reading materials. To aid in the understating of the topics discussed during class, students are expected to review and evaluate the reading materials including any additional research, questions, and references that the student may add to better understand the topic area. These student’s evaluations and summaries will be used in class to augment our group discussion, and collected afterwards for the purpose of grading.
At the end, the student will be invited to select a research project involving the need for determining the interaction and integration between Earth Sciences and Public Health (in consultation with the instructor(s)), and to prepare a paper presentation and poster reviewing the geoscience and biomedical aspects of the problem.

The final grade will be awarded as follows:
•Overall participation in class: 10%
•Evaluation and discussion of topics and reading materials: 30%
•Mid-term exam: 20%
•Selection of Research Paper: 20%
•Final Poster Presentation: 20%

Level: Easy

Teacher: Robert B. FinkelmanJose A. Centeno

Reference textbooks: In addition to the following suggested text books, students will be responsible for weekly readings from various published research articles and sources to be handed out in class.


Essentials of Medical Geology – Impacts of the Natural Environment on Public Health, 2005 Editors: O. Selinus, B. Alloway, J. A. Centeno, R. B. Finkelman, R. Fuge, U. Lindh, P. Smedley. Elsevier. “This is a fascinating reference work that will inevitably find its way into earth sciences classrooms, but also will appeal to a wider readership, including public health scientists and decision makers. Anyone looking to explore the field of Medical Geology will be captivated by the contents of this publication. The volume emphasises the importance and interrelationships of geological processes to the health and diseases of humans and animals. Numerous examples of the environmental in- fluences on human health from across the globe are also presented and discussed. A revised Springer version appeared in 2013.” Excerpted from book review. Avail- able at: 20BOOKS.html (accessed 23.09.202

Thomas; Erel, Yigal (Eds.) 2013, VIII, 194 p. 58 illus., 27 illus. in color. “This book includes a collection of chapters illustrating the application of geo- chemical methods to investigate the interactions between geological materials and fluids with humans. Examples include the incorporation and human health effects of inhaling lithogenic materials, the reactivity of biological fluids with geological materials, and the impact on nascent biomineral formation. Biomineralisation is investigated in terms of mineralogy, morphology, bone chemistry, and pathological significance with a focus on the health impacts of “foreign” geological/environmental trace element incorporation.” Excerpted from book review. Available at:

https:// (accessed 23.02.2019).

Medical Geology – A Regional Synthesis, 2010. Editors: O. Selinus, R.B. Finkelman, J.A. o; Springer Science+Business Media; Series: International Year of Planet Earth “Medical Geology: A Regional Synthesis brings together the work of geoscientists and medical/public health researchers, and addresses the health problems caused, or exacerbated, by geological materials (rocks, minerals, atmospheric dust and water) and processes (including volcanic eruptions and earthquakes). This wide-ranging volume also covers other issues in Medical Geology all over the world, with each author covering their respective region.” Excerpted from book review. Available at: (accessed 23.02.2019)

Man and the Geosphere, 2010. Editor: I.V. Florinsky. Nova Science Publishers, New York. Series: Earth Science in the 21st Century. “Humankind is under the permanent influence of the geological environment. Roles of some geological biotropic factors, such as volcanic explosions, strong earthquakes, and geochemical anomalies, have been well studied. Little is known about biotropic effects of the Earth’s fluid degassing, geomagnetic activity, natural background radiation, fluid migration and gas emission within fault zones, mild seismicity, cyclicity of tectonic and climatic processes, etc. This book is the first attempt to synthesize the interdisciplinary knowledge on all geogenic fac- tors influencing humans, society, and civilization.” Excerpted from book review. Available at: (accessed 23.02.2019)

Introduction to Medical Geology, 2009. Editors: C.B. Dissanayake and R. Chandrajith. Springer Science+Business Media Series: Erlangen Earth Conference Series “Over two billion people live in tropical lands. Most of them live in intimate contact with the immediate geological environment, obtaining their food and wa- ter directly from it. The unique geochemistry of these tropical environments have a marked influence on their health, giving rise to diseases that affect millions of people. The origin of these diseases is geologic as exemplified by dental and skeletal fluorosis, iodine deficiency disorders, trace element imbalances to name a few. This book, one of the first of its kind, serves as an excellent introduction to the emerging discipline of Medical Geology.” Excerpted from book review. Available at: (accessed 23.02.2019).
Geology and Health – Closing the Gap, 2003. Editors: H.C. W. Skinner, A. R. Berger. Oxford University Press. “Geology and Health is an integration of papers from geo-bio-chemical scientists on health issues of concern to humankind worldwide, demonstrating how the health and well-being of populations now and in the future can benefit through coordinated scientific efforts. International examples on dusts, coal, arsenic, fluorine, lead, mercury, and water borne chemicals, that lead to health effects are documented and explored. They were selected to illustrate how hazards and potential hazards may be from natural materials and processes and how an- thropomorphic changes may have contributed to disease and debilitation instead of solutions.” Excerpted from book review. Available at: (accessed 23.02.2019).
National Research Council 2007. Earth Materials and Health: Research Priorities for Earth Science and Public Health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. A global perspective is necessary when considering the interlinked geochemical and biochemical research issues at the intersection of the earth sciences and public health. The air that carries viruses or earth- sourced particulate matter is clearly global and circulates beyond human control. Pathogens in soil and water have enhanced potential for global spread as food is increasingly transported worldwide. And the availability of irrigation and potable water is increasingly acknowledged as a worldwide issue. As the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth (2008) approaches, it is particularly gratifying that “Earth and Health: Building a Safer Environment” is one of the 10 research themes. This presents an important opportunity for the earth science and public health research communities on a global scale; the committee hopes that this report will provide research focal points and suggest mechanisms to improve communication and collaboration between these communities.

Additional Videos and Reference Materials:
The following videos have been prepared and provided by the International Medical Geology Association (IMGA) (, and are intended to described the discipline of Medical Geology emphasizing current research projects. IMGA approvals have been received for the use of these videos by the Environmental & Health Sciences Consortium for inclusion in the course entitled “ Introduction to Medical Geology”.


Additional videos and references materials will be made available throughout the semester.