Vol. 4, No. 1 – June 2006
USGS Activities Related to Human Health
Human Exposure to Mercury in Ukraine
An integrated environmental/human health study is underway in Gorlovka, Ukraine, where elevated levels of mercury occur
primarily due to past mercury mining and processing activities. Mine waste from mercury production, and current domestic and
industrial use of coal from local sources, contribute to elevated levels of mercury in the environment. The study,
Feasibility of Assessing Health Risks from Long-term Mercury Exposure in Gorlovka, Ukraine, funded by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, has been incorporated into U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) project work on Health Effects of Energy Resources. The goals of the work in Gorlovka are to define levels of
human exposure to mercury, assess possible health effects to exposed individuals, and determine the feasibility of larger
scale epidemiologic studies.
The project involves U.S. participants from the USGS, the Armed Forces Institute of
Pathology, and Sciences International, Inc., as well as Ukrainian scientists from
the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine Institute for Occupational Health, and
Donetsk National Technical University. During a field visit to
Gorlovka in August 2005, samples of hair, nails, blood, and urine were taken from a group of 30 workers at a mercury
recycling facility on the site of the defunct Nikitovka mercury extraction plant. The scientists also collected environmental samples to
assess mercury levels and potential exposure near the mercury mines and over a larger portion of Gorlovka. Further sampling
will focus on Gorlovka residents lacking occupational mercury exposure, and residents of a nearby control municipality. This
research has the potential to be an important human health case study of mercury exposure.
Navajo Students Assist in Coal Combustion and Air Quality Study
USGS scientists are collaborating with the Navajo Nation
Division of Health on respiratory health issues related to coal combustion products in ambient air and indoor air quality
where coal is burned industrially and for home heating. USGS researchers will be assisted by Navajo students this summer
(2006) to collect air samples. The samples will be analyzed and compared with samples collected this winter.
USGS Scientist Named Director of the International Medical Geology Association's North American Regional Division
The USGS's Joe Bunnell has accepted the nomination as Director of the newly established North American Regional Division
of the International Medical Geology Association (IMGA). The IMGA, formally
inaugurated in January 2006, now has established Regional Divisions throughout the world. The Association grew out of
interest in Medical Geology that continues to expand worldwide at an increasingly rapid rate. The IMGA should enable the
community to better respond to numerous opportunities, to rapidly pass information to those interested in Medical Geology
issues, and to make critical decisions that will benefit this emerging scientific discipline.
Special Session (4.0W) Soils and Human Health, 18th World Congress of Soil Science, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 9-15,
This special session of the World Congress symposium will show the importance of soils and soil properties for human
health. Relevant topics include the influence of soil and climatic factors on the content of essential nutrients or naturally
occurring toxic substances in plant products, impacts of soil pollution on human health, and the spreading of infectious
diseases via atmospheric transport of soil dust. The symposium is a contribution to the ICSU initiative on "Science for
Conference Web Site
Sponsors: Inst.-Plt. Sci.; U.S. Geological Survey; Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Special Session (U07) Health on the Rocks, Western Pacific Geophysics Meeting, Beijing, China, July 24-27, 2006
In 2005 we witnessed and experienced the effects of several natural disasters. These events caused significant loss of
life, devastation to the environment, and extensive financial loss and damage to infrastructure. Yet, in 2005 we also saw
geoscientists and public health officials become more aware of the relationships between natural geological factors and
health in man and animals. This awareness has led to ongoing attempts to understand the influence of ordinary environmental
factors on the geographic distribution of various trace elements (I, F, As, Se, Pb, Hg, Co, etc.) that may adversely affect a
population's health. The 2006 WPGM is the ideal setting to discuss the status of medical geology investigations worldwide,
particularly of those in the western Pacific region. We are seeking submissions that inform and educate as well as lay the
groundwork for future collaborations and data sharing.
Sponsors: U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Geological Survey
Second National Conference on USGS Health-Related Research, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia, September 12-14, 2006
Collaboration between the public health and earth science communities can lead to solutions for existing and emerging
environmental health problems. Organizations and individuals interested in environmental and earth science factors affecting
human health will be interested in attending this conference, which is designed to provide a broad forum for discussion,
bringing together a variety of interested parties, including policy makers, scientists, resource managers, Congressional
staffers, and representatives from Federal and State governments and non-governmental organizations.
Conference Web Site
Sponsor: U.S. Geological Survey
Special Session (SP01) Natural Dust and Human Health, 7th International Symposium on Environmental Geochemistry, Beijing,
China, September 24-27, 2006
The session will bring together specialists from several disciplines to review the current status of research into
naturally-occurring atmospheric aerosols, the nature of fine aerosol dust, variations in its toxicity and its interaction
with live tissue, the effects of prolonged exposure to natural toxic dusts, and the epidemiology of lung disease and
dust-related conditions in human populations. This session will provide insights into a relatively neglected scientific field
of societal importance, with the potential to form the basis of a state-of-the art publication on the subject.
Session Web Site
Sponsors: University of London, UK, University of Bristol, UK, and U.S. Geological Survey
Medical Mineralogy and Geochemistry Short Course, Menlo Park, California, December 9-10, 2006
The objectives of this workshop are to introduce geochemists and mineralogists to the concepts and problems involved with
the interactions between geomaterials and the human body, to highlight the importance of mineralogy and crystal chemistry in
understanding health issues, and to promote links between mineralogists and geochemists working on medical problems as well
as medical scientists working on problems involving geomaterials.
Course Web Site
Sponsors: U.S. Geological Survey; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Stony Brook University, New York
- U.S. Geological Survey, in press, Navajo coal and air quality in Shiprock, New Mexico:
U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2006-3094.
- Ayotte, J.D.; Baris, Dalsu; Cantor, K.P.; Colt, Joanne; Robinson, G.R., Jr.; Lubin, J.H.; Karagas, Margaret; Hoover,
R.N.; Fraumeni, J.F., Jr.; and Silverman, D.T., 2006, Bladder cancer mortality and private well use in New
England--An ecological study: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, v. 60, p. 168-172.
- Ayotte, J.D.; Nolan, B.T.; Nuckols, J.R.; Cantor, K.P.; Robinson, G.R., Jr.; Baris, Dalsu; Hayes, Laura; Karagas,
Margaret; Bress, William; Silverman, D.T.; and Lubin, J.H., 2006, Modeling
the probability of arsenic in groundwater in New England as a tool for exposure assessment: Environmental Science and
Technology, v. 40, no. 11, p. 3578-3585, DOI/10.1021/es051972f.
- Barringer, J.L., Szabo, Zoltan, Schneider, Donald, Atkinson, W.D., and Gallagher, R.A., 2006, Mercury in ground water, septage, leach-field effluent, and
soils in residential areas, New Jersey coastal plain: Science of The Total Environment, v. 361, p. 144-162.
- Chrosniak, L.D., Smith, L.N, McDonald, C.G., Jones, B.F., and Flinn, J.M., 2006, Effects of enhanced zinc and copper in drinking water on spatial
memory and fear conditioning: Journal of Geochemical Exploration, v. 88, p. 91-94,
- Fitzgerald, A.A., Smith, L.N., Thompson, J.H., Chrosniak, L.D., Conko, K.M., Jones, B.F., and Flinn, J.M., 2005, The
effects of copper on zinc-related cognitive deficiencies as assessed by the Morris water maze, in Proceedings of
the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C.
- Flinn, J.M., Hunter, D., Linkous, D.H., Lanzirotti, A., Smith, L.N., Brightwell, J., and Jones, B.F., 2005, Enhanced zinc consumption causes memory deficits and increased
brain levels of zinc: Physiology and Behavior, v. 83, no. 5, p. 793-803, DOI/10.1016/j.physbeh.2004.10.009.
- Koterba, M.T., Andres, A.S., Vrabel, J.P., Crilley, D.M., Szabo, Zoltan, DeWild, J.F., Aiken, G.R., and Reyes-Padro,
Betzaida, 2006, Occurrence and distribution of
mercury in the surficial aquifer, Long Neck Peninsula, Sussex County, Delaware, 2003-04: U.S. Geological Survey
Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5011, 159 p.
- Nemec, J.A., Marinkovic, N.S., Cano, K.E., Linkous, D.H., Flinn, J.M., and Jones, B.F., 2005, Effects of dietary
consumption of zinc and iron on beta-amyloid conformation using synchrotron infrared microspectroscopy, in
Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C.
Compiled and Edited by David W. Morganwalp