Soils and Human Health Session at EGU2013


Degraded soils are not able to provide the nutrients needed to sustain plant and human health. Photo courtesy of the USDA-NRCS.
Degraded soils are not able to provide the nutrients needed to sustain plant and human health. Photo courtesy of the USDA-NRCS.

Most people probably don’t think about soils when they think about their health, but the truth is soils have a strong influence on human health. Soils are the ultimate source of many of the nutrients that are essential for human life and about 40% of the medicines in use today originate from soil. Soils can also harm human health, through exposures to toxic levels of chemicals, exposure to pathogens that live in the soil, or through the inhalation of dust that causes respiratory problems.

Degraded soils are not able to provide the Exposure to some soil organisms can cause disease. This individual has Rocky Mountain spotted fever, caused by the soil bacteria Rickettsia sp.
Degraded soils are not able to provide the Exposure to some soil organisms can cause disease. This individual has Rocky Mountain spotted fever, caused by the soil bacteria Rickettsia sp.

With all the ways soils can influence our health, it is important that we investigate these relationships. A step was taken in that direction at the 2013 EGU meetings when the Soil Systems Sciences division sponsored a session titled “Soils and Human Health”. The session included 7 oral presentations and 20 posters. Submissions to the session came from Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia. Topics covered included viral attachment to soil particles, heavy metals in soils, water quality, the effects of organic soil amendments, the involvement of soil organisms in disease outbreaks, nutrient deficiencies, remote sensing applications, and the use of soils in criminal investigations. It is hoped that this session and the presentations in it will inspire soil scientists to become more involved in human health issues and seek new, unconventional ways to apply soils knowledge for public benefit.

To learn more about the connections between soils and human health you can read the book “Soils and Human Health” recently released by CRC Press.

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