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USGS Conference "Natural Science and Public Health—Prescription for a Better Environment"

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Conference location at USGS headquarters in Reston, VA.
Conference location at USGS headquarters in Reston, VA.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s Strategic Plan (1996-2005) described "environmental effects on human health" as a potential growth area for USGS multidisciplinary expertise. In an effort to showcase projects at the intersection of environmental research and human health, the USGS hosted a 3-day conference at the agency's headquarters in Reston, VA, from April 1 to 3. The ultimate goal of the conference was to foster linkages between natural-resource science and human health by bringing together the USGS and its partners in a forum that highlighted the spectrum of contributions USGS research makes to human-health issues.

Cosponsors included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

The meeting brought together approximately 150 members of the medical and public-health community, the military, and researchers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Introductory remarks by USGS Director Charles "Chip" Groat were followed by a keynote address by Congressman Ralph Regula (R-OH).

Information on the influence of the natural environment on human exposure to pathogens and toxic agents has tremendous value for understanding human-health issues. With a long history of environmental research and monitoring, USGS scientists in geology, geography, environmental toxicology and biology, water quality, and other natural sciences have applied their scientific information on geologic-, atmospheric-, water-, and vector-borne threats to issues related to human health and the health of ecosystems. Many USGS scientists have long been involved in cooperative projects to study the links between environmental factors and human health, including:

  • Drinking-water issues
  • Atmospheric transport of dust and gases
  • Soils
  • Mineral reactions
  • Wildlife disease
  • Remote-sensing and geographic-information-system (GIS) applications

USGS Natural Science and Public Health conference logo.
USGS Natural Science and Public Health conference logo.
In partnership with public-health professionals, geoscientists are beginning to understand the role of Earth materials and systems in the spread of infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus fever. Analytical characterization of naturally occurring trace elements and toxic organic compounds in ground water is helping to explain patterns of such diseases as arsenosis and fluorosis in China, and Balkan endemic nephropathy—a condition leading to end-stage kidney failure. Satellites are being used to monitor the movement of huge dust clouds moving across oceans that carry pathogenic microbes, kill coral, and may cause asthma. Rapid-response teams are able to help characterize urban hazards, such as the dust debris from the World Trade Center collapse.

More information about the conference is available on the conference Web site. Abstracts from research presented at the conference have been collected into USGS Open-File Report 03-097. For a copy of this report, please contact Carolyn Lumb (

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Related Web Sites
Natural Science and Public Health—Prescription for a Better Environment
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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