Medical Geology: The Relationship Between Earth Sciences and Human Health

On April 15, the Colombian Geological Service received the visit of Dr. José A. Centeno, who gave a shot presentation on “Medical Geology, an emerging discipline that relates research in Earth sciences with the health of living beings”, with the aim of promoting and developing this discipline in Colombia.

In this space, Professor Centeno, a toxicologist chemist from the University of Puerto Rico with a master’s degree from the same institution, a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Michigan, a postdoc in molecular biophysics and pathologies from the Institute of Pathology of the United States Armed Forces, and who is also considered the father of this discipline,  He explained that Medical Geology aims to study the relationship between materials and geological processes, and their impact on health problems that can occur in humans, animals and plants, microorganisms and pathogens, and the incidence of cancer due to the presence of certain elements in geological materials.

“Medical Geology is vital due to its multidisciplinary nature, as it integrates aspects of chemistry, biology, engineering, geosciences, toxicology and public health to develop prevention and protection programs for the population,” he explained. Regarding the relationship between geology and medicine, Dr. Centeno explained that this is not a new discipline, since evidence has been found of the use of rocks and minerals for the cure and prevention of diseases, in cultures that inhabited the planet for thousands of years, such as the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Mayan, among others.

Additionally, he showed the wide range of research areas that can be covered by this discipline, where he highlighted the studies on water quality, the deficiency or excess of elements such as iodine, selenium and arsenic, the presence of microorganisms in geological samples, radionuclides such as radon, radium and uranium, climate change, among others.

Regarding the areas of research that Medical Geology is currently addressing, he highlighted the relationship between climate change and health effects, the presence of pollutants such as fluoride, arsenic, lead and mercury in water sources, the presence of microorganisms and pathogens, and the incidence of cancer due to the presence of certain elements in geological materials.

To conclude, Dr. Centeno spoke about the future and the new areas that could be addressed on this topic, among which he named veterinary geology, the health impacts of natural disasters, urban medical geology, occupational health and mental health.

He also stressed the need to establish, at the head of the Colombian Geological Service, the Colombian chapter in the International Association of Medical Geology, which could be made up of various sectors of Colombian society, from students to researchers and citizens interested in deepening their knowledge of Medical Geology. “For me it is important that medical geology is established particularly in Latin America, because it is a region that has many areas that we still have to study from the point of view of geology and public health,” he said.

After this talk, the Medical Geology Group of the Directorate of Resources had the opportunity to hold a space for the exchange of knowledge, in which, based on the presentation of the projects that have been addressed from this discipline, Professor Centeno made observations and comments for the future development of the theme within the working group. “I leave with the satisfaction of seeing a consolidated group with so much projection of work in the area of Medical Geology,” he said.