Saturday, January 23, 2010

Man versus elephant in Jharkhand State of India.

Villagers are forced to live on top of the tree.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Elephant entering in a village.

Herd of elephants destroying the huts.

Village destroyed.

People forced to live on top of tree.

Villagers on tree.

Other aspect of elephant. Roaming on the street of Ranchi city with its owner.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There was a time when Sea Monsters did exist.

In many cultures of the world there are different stories of these ancient giant reptiles and their interactions with human beings.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

Fig. Kaliya Nag (cobra snake)
There is nothing quite so frightening as the idea of a sea monster. Unlike T. Rex and other giant dinosaurs, which went extinct, might sea monsters live on? Might they lurk beneath the leaden cloak of the oceans, breaching occasionally into view? Through the ages, serious mariners have returned to port with accounts of huge, snaky beasts baring teeth and trailing feathery manes, undulating through the waves or rearing like a horse. Stories about water serpents have slithered into many cultures. But what about the science of sea monsters? In fact, there was a time when they did exist. About 250 million years ago Earth’s continents were gathered into one landmass, Pangaea. Shallow seas and the lack of significant marine predators created new niches for many reptiles that had developed on land. They wriggled into the water, swam, reproduced, and died becoming the fossils.

In many cultures of the world there are different stories of these ancient giant reptiles and their interactions with human beings, stories from Scotland, to North America, India and to China is rich with stories of encounter with big reptiles. One such theory is of importance of dragon in Chinese culture. No one knows when the Chinese belief in dragons began, but it extends back thousands of year. With serpent like scaly bodies, horses heads, and blazing rabbit eyes, the dragons inhabited ponds and rivers and could fly on bat wings to the heavens in spirally water-spouts.

If times were hard and drought stalked the land, peoples gave them offerings, asking them to breathe out mists and clouds and their heavenly rain.

Some Chinese dragons are considered evil, such as the Chien Tang River monster and the seagoing, red-maned Shan, but overall they are benevolent, embodying fecundity and fortune. In the distant past some dragons were transformed into Sea Dragon Kings, Hai Long Wang, who lived in the oceans and protected seafarers.

The dragon is probably the best-known mythical creature. Steeped in symbolic meaning, it appears in all culture in the form of fairy tales and legends, including stories in the Bible, and is especially prominent in Chinese mythology. Dragons breathe fire and are close to invincible. In some cultures they are bane to humanity, but in others are bringers of good luck.

Well into the sixteenth century, most people believed that dragons really existed. Swiss natural scientists and humanist Konard Gesner (1516-1565) differentiated between three types of dragons in his six-volume work on the animal world. One was like a gigantic snake without wings, another resembled a winged snake, and third creature had a snake’s body, membranous wings, a horned head, and armored claws.

In Hindu religious stories many such descriptions of large serpent like animals has been mentioned several times. Lord Sheshnag is depicted is the divine serpent with a thousand heads. According to Hindu mythology, the world rests on the hoods of Lord Sheshnaga, and when he shakes his head, there are earthquakes. He is also known as Ananta (eternal) since he is immortal and is not affected by death even during the destruction of the Universe. The most common representation of Lord Vishnu shows him floating on the infinite space of the cosmic ocean reclined on the coils of the hydra-headed serpent-deity Shesh-Nag.

Kaliya in Hindu mythology , was the name of a poisonous Nāga(cobra snake) living in the Yamuna River, in Vrindavan in India. The water of the Yamuna for four leagues all around him boiled and bubbled with poison. No bird or beast could go near, and only one solitary Kadamba tree grew on the river bank.
The proper home of Kāliyā was Ramanaka Dwipa, but he had been driven away from there by fear of Garuda (a type of hunting bird), the foe of all serpents.
Once Krishna and herdboys were playing ball, and while playing Krishna climbed up the Kadamba tree and hung over the river bank, the ball fell into the river and Krishna jumped after it. Kāliyā rose up with his hundred and ten hoods vomiting poison and wrapped himself around Krishna's body. Krishna became so huge that Kāliyā had to release him. So Krishna saved himself from every attack, and when he saw the Brij folk were so much afraid he suddenly sprang into Kāliyā's head and assumed the weight of the whole universe, and danced on the naga's heads, beating time with his feet. Then Kāliyā began to die. But then the naga's wives came and prayed to Krishna with joined palms, worshipping Krishna and praying for their husband.
Kāliyā, recognizing the greatness of Krishna, surrendered, promising he would not harass anybody. So Krishna pardoned him and then let him go free to leave the river and go to Ramanaka Dwipa. Some identify it as Fiji
Kaliya is depicted as a large black cobra, and was said to have one hundred and ten heads; it may be that the Infada tribe had a cult within itself that worshipped this Great Snake.
Kraken are legendary sea monsters of gargantuan size, said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the beasts have made them common ocean-dwelling monsters in various fictional works. The legend may actually have originated from sightings of real giant squid that are variously estimated to grow to 13–15 m (40–50 ft) in length, including the tentacles. These creatures normally live at great depths, but have been sighted at the surface and reportedly have "attacked" ships.
Kraken is the definite article form of krake, a Scandinavian word designating an unhealthy animal, or something twisted. In modern German, Krake (plural and declined singular: Kraken) means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary Kraken
Remains of a bus-sized prehistoric "monster" reptile was found on a remote Arctic island in year 2007. Initial excavation of a site on the Svalbard islands in August yielded the remains, teeth, skull fragments and vertebrae of a reptile estimated to measure nearly 40 feet long.
Argentine scientists have discovered the remains of a fierce sea monster in the year 2005 that terrorized Pacific waters in the age of the dinosaurs. The researchers are calling it Godzilla after the legendary movie monster, but it really was an ancestor of modern crocodiles. Millions of years ago when dinosaurs ruled the land, these early crocodiles dominated the oceans, but they never seem to have caught the public's imagination as dinosaurs have.

Around Lake Manitoba in the Canadian province of the same name, people believe in the existence of Manipogo, a snake-like, humped, dark brownish black sea monster. Its estimated length ranges between 12 and 50 feet. In 1962, two fisher man managed to photograph it, but the quality of the image was terrible-it could just as easily show as a drifting branch-and thus not accepted as proof.

North of Toronto, Canada, many people believe that Igopogo, also known as Kempenfelt Kelly, lives in the Lake Simcoe. It is said to have a long neck and dog like head. All descriptions of the beast are in agreement, supporting the theory that an unidentified creature really does inhabit the lake. In 1970, John Kirk, president of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, organized a search for it, which was unsuccessful. Amateur video recordings show a dark shadow, after a which a head surfaces, looks around for a few seconds, and then goes under again. Kirk categorizes the creature as a seal or sea lion.

460 million years ago, the biggest animal on Earth was a jet-propelled cone with tentacles, the type was Cephalopod mollusk. and size was up to 11m long. The giant orthocone's living tissue was at one end of a very long conical shell. It had no fins and no tail. Along the underside of the cone ran a flexible, fleshy tube. The orthocone moved along by forcing water out in the opposite direction to where it wanted to go. It controlled its vertical position by adjusting the amount of seawater in the chambers of its shell. Its mouth and metre-long tentacles emerged from one end of the shell.

It ate fish as well as arthropods, e.g. sea scorpions. It seized its prey using its tentacles and beak-like mouth to rip apart.

Sea scorpions were the first animal ever to have moved from water to land also knew how to get out of its shell. Size was 1-2m long. Lived during Ordovician, 460-445 million years ago. Sea scorpions had strong defences - spines, claws and armour plating. They walked on six legs, the back two of which were flattened into paddles. Out of the water they were cumbersome but could swim a little underwater.

They were normally sea-floor dwellers but they could also live in freshwater and on land. Megalograptus browsed the seafloor looking for fish, trilobites and other animals in the sand and mud. It also ate its own kind.

Megalograptus could only grow in size by shedding its hard shell and growing a new one. While it was naked, it gathered with others in shallow water for safety in numbers. During moulting, it took advantage of its briefly soft body and abundant nearby neighbours to mate.
It is amazing to think that ancient sea monsters swam over the most of the present land mass. Fortunately It was some million years ago when the present land mass was submerged by ancient oceans. Fossils found in central America and many parts of the world prove that they really lived.
National Geographic Magazine, December,2005.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Earthquake stopped life in Haiti. More stable areas are under threat.

It seems Haiti is now history.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

All photo credits:
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake centred approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, which struck at 16:53:09 local time (21:53:09 UTC) on Tuesday, 12 January 2010. The earthquake occurred at a depth of 13 kilometres (8.1 mi). The United States Geological Survey recorded a series of aftershocks, fourteen of them between magnitudes 5.0 and 5.9. The International Red Cross estimates that there have been as many as three million people affected by the quake, and an estimated 45,000–50,000 deaths. Most of Port-au-Prince's major landmarks were significantly damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, including the Presidential Palace (though the President survived), the National Assembly building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the main jail. All hospitals were destroyed or so badly damaged that they have been abandoned. The United Nations reported that headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), located in the capital, collapsed and that a large number of UN personnel were unaccounted for. The Mission's Chief, Hédi Annabi, was confirmed dead on 13 January by President René Préval.

The earthquake occurred inland, on 12 January 2010, approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) WSW from Port-au-Prince at a depth of 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) at 16:53 UTC-5 on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system. Strong shaking with intensity VII–IX on the Modified Mercalli scale (MM) was recorded in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs. It was also felt in several surrounding countries and regions, including Cuba (MM III in Guantánamo), Jamaica (MM II in Kingston), Venezuela (MM II in Caracas), Puerto Rico (MM II–III in San Juan), and the bordering country of Dominican Republic (MM III in Santo Domingo).

The quake occurred in the vicinity of the northern boundary where the Caribbean tectonic plate shifts eastwards by about 20 mm per year relative to the North American plate. The strike-slip fault system in the region has two branches in Haiti, the Septentrional fault in the north and the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault in the south; seismic data suggests that the January 2010 quake was on the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault, which had been locked solid for 250 years, gathering stress. The stress would ultimately have been relieved either by a large earthquake or a series of smaller one.

According to other report, the Haiti earthquake occurred at a fault that runs right through Haiti and is situated along the boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates, which are rocky slabs that cover the planet and fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. These two plates constantly creep past one another, about 0.8 inches a year, with the Caribbean plate moving eastward with respect to the North American slab.
The Caribbean isn't exactly a hot zone for earthquakes, but they're not unheard of in the region.

Yesterday's earthquake was one of the largest ever to hit the area — the last time an earthquake this strong struck Haiti was in the 18th century.

Haiti takes up about half of the island of Hispaniola, while the Dominican Republic lies on the other side. In 1946, an 8.0-magnitude earthquake shook Samana, in the Dominican Republic, causing about 100 fatalities. The recent quake will likely have a much greater casualty toll because it hit a more densely populated region.

Haiti earthquake threats those stable areas in world which has not received major earthquakes from thousands of years. Gradually developing stress may activate dead faults. Small earthquakes in unexpected locations are often a cause for concern. The worry is that these rumbles are harbingers of bigger quakes to come. But not always - a new study suggests that many of these tremors aren't warnings, but aftershocks. In particular, those that happen in the middle of continents, far away from the major fault-lines that separate tectonic plates, probably reflect past quakes rather than future ones.
Earthquakes are a common occurrence on the boundaries between tectonic plates, and they occur at predictable spots. But they can often strike areas that are far away from such boundaries and where old fault-lines have seen little seismic activity over the past hundred years.
Nature doi:10.1038/nature08502

Haiti Earthquake disaster.

GeoEye-1 satellite from 423 miles in space.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

Above is a photo that contains an "AFTER THE QUAKE" satellite image of Port-au-Prince taken by GeoEye-1 satellite from 423 miles in space at 10:27 am EST on Jan. 13, 2010 as it moved from north to south over the Caribbean at a speed of 4 miles per second. Ground resolution is half meter (19 inches).
This photograph was send to me by Mr.James Davis Manager of Digital Communications.
You can see the Haitian National Palace located just to the right of the center of the image. It looks like a white inverted letter "E."To see the imagery at its best resolution you can zoom-in to any area within the image.The imagery clearly shows extensive damage throughout the city. One can see roads covered with debris from collapsed structures, people crowded in the streets and in open public places such as sports fields and stadiums. Many buildings appear to be flattened. The white-colored National Palace shows damage along the roof line.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Importance of Medical Geology in present environment.

It is now a globally emerging discipline.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Humans live in lands. Most of them live in intimate contact with the immediate geological environment, obtaining their food and water 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.

Medical Geology is an emerging scientific discipline that examines the impacts that geologic materials and processes have on human and ecosystem health. Medical Geology:
· Identifies and characterizes natural and anthropogenic sources of harmful materials in the environment.
· Predicts the movement and alteration of chemical, infectious, and other disease-causing agents over time and space.
· Provides an understanding of how people are exposed to harmful materials and describes what can be done to minimize or prevent such exposure.

The civilized existence of man is made possible by keeping him physically healthy through the application of medical knowledge. Although this is an important aspect of life, surprisingly little serious attention appears to have been given to it by the very persons who should have realized its important role in the study of the effects of various elements and metals on the human body.
Every day we eat, drink and breathe minerals and trace elements, never giving a thought to what moves from the environment and into our bodies. For most of us this interaction with natural materials is harmless, perhaps even beneficial, supplying us with essential nutrients. However, for some, the interaction with minerals and trace elements can have devastating, even fatal effects. These interactions are the realm of medical geology, a fast-growing field that not only involves geoscientists but also medical, public health, veterinary, agricultural, environmental and biological scientists. Medical geology is the study of the effects of geologic materials and processes on human, animal and plant health, with both good and possibly hazardous results.

The relationship between the Earth's surface that we humans inhabit and our health is under debate. The fact that a continuum and indelible link exists is not in doubt. We have obtained food, water, and shelter since Homo arrived, but in the twentieth century we have learned that disease as well as health may by derived from our environment.

The geochemical distribution and biochemical availability of the elements that are required for human existence are not uniformly distributed over the Earth's surface. For example, low concentrations of iodine (I) characterize the soils and rocks at high elevations and in limestone terrains. This is a natural global phenomenon. Medical acumen and geostatistical and epidemiological investigations have identified iodine as an essential nutrient. The thick necks that were depicted in ancient Chinese scrolls, and the cretinism found in mountainous regions, are now recognized as symptoms of the endemic disease goitre. Jharkhand and other Eastern states in India are Iodine deficiency zone. Reduction, but unfortunately not eradication, of this preventable malady is now possible through the use of iodine-enriched table salt and oils.

Fluorine (F), another element that is a constituent of some minerals, is now added to drinking water to minimize the development of dental caries, especially in children. Apart from the beneficial effects of maintaining a healthy oral cavity to aid mastication and minimize pain, it is probable that ingestion of fluorine in small amounts (parts per million) over a lifetime will stave off osteoporosis, or at least serve to preserve the mineral materials in the skeleton in old age. It was the recognition of a connection between high natural fluorine concentrations (100 ppm) in the drinking waters of certain localities in Oklahoma and India and overabundant calcium phosphate mineral deposition in the skeleton that most clearly illustrates the essential and continuing basic interactions between geology, geochemistry, medicine, and biochemistry. The fluorine effect, fully researched, led to applications aimed at reduction, if not prevention, of disease.

Radon is a naturally occurring colourless, odourless gas that is emitted from rocks containing minerals rich in the transuranic elements. The occupational health effects, in particular lung cancer, suffered by some European coal-miners who mine such rocks were ascribed to radiation, but may equally well have been induced by smoking. Granites that underlie portions of the north-east of the United States (New England) are known to contain minerals that emit radon. Recent epidemiological studies that measured environmental exposure (the average was less than 4 picocuries for the region) were not able to demonstrate an association between the incidence of lung cancer and sites where radon concentrations (possible doses) were elevated.
In its broadest sense, medical geology studies exposure to or deficiency of trace elements and minerals; inhalation of ambient and anthropogenic mineral dusts and volcanic emissions; transportation, modification and concentration of organic compounds; and exposure to radionuclides, microbes and pathogens.

Hippocrates and other Hellenic writers recognized that environmental factors affected geographical distributions of human diseases 2,400 years ago. And in 300 B.C., Aristotle noted lead poisoning in miners. Rocks and minerals have also been used for thousands of years to treat various maladies such as the plague, smallpox and fevers.

The geological profession has made considerable progress in studies on the distribution of elements, even in traces, in rock materials to understand their manner of evolution. A geochemist who takes to such studies rarely gives a thought as to which of the elements he has been examining are beneficial or harmful to the human race although the civilized existence of man requires a number of elements and metals. The soil which covers the underlying rock, in the process of weathering, concentrates some of these elements and even transfers some to plants growth on such soil, while groundwater which filters through the soil profile dissolves certain other elements. Civilized man, in order to coax more from the soil, adds fertilizers and uses pesticides for destroying pests which affect crop growth. Also with the good intention of keeping the human body in good conditions, he introduces certain elements in the form of drugs under medical advice. The geological factors which control the distribution and dissemination of these elements, as also their presumed therapeutical effects, is a factor of great importance to which geologists must direct their attention.

The types of rocks that form geologic units in the Earth’s crust supply most of the raw materials from which soils are formed and from which water derives it inorganic constituents. The compositions of what we eat and drink thus depend in part upon the compositions of the source rocks. The contents of individual trace elements vary widely with rock type. Chromium, titanium, nickel, and cobalt are conspicuously concentrated in low-silica igneous rocks that are quantitatively unimportant. Arsenic, iodine, molybdenum, and selenium are conspicuously concentrated in shale and clay. Metallic elements present in source rocks in small amounts-the so called minor elements or trace elements- have been shown to have important effects on human and animal health, resulting from their excess or deficiencies in soils, waters, and plants.

Rocks like Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphics contribute trace elements to the water bodies like fluoride, Arsenic, lead, copper, mercury, zinc, etc. Jharkhand state in India provides an ideal opportunity for the study of the effect of geology on human health. The vast majority of the people of Jharkhand still live in rural areas within areas termed geochemical provinces. Very broadly, one could say that a geochemical province has characteristic chemical composition in soil, water stream sediments and rocks, enabling their delineation from others. The chemical composition is presumed to be have an impact on the health of the inhabitants of the particular geochemical province, particularly because of the fact that their food and water are obtained mostly from the terrain itself. This leads to the concept of "diseases of geochemical origin". Among these are dental fluorosis, iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs) and Arsenic toxicity based diseases.

Author has worked on distribution of trace elements in Permian coals of North Karanpura Coalfield of Jharkhand State of India and its environmental impact. It was found that concentration of arsenic in coal samples range from <0.01 to 0.49ppm with an arithmetic mean of 0.15ppm. (Priyadarshi, 2004). Concentration of arsenic is low compared to most world coals. Average ash% is very high (up to 32.51%). Average concentration of arsenic in the sediments of mine water was 1.4 ppm. Though the concentration of arsenic is low in the surface water ( 0.001-0.002 ppm) it may still affect the local habitants especially during summer season when the consumption of water increases many folds. Main source of arsenic in the water bodies is from the coals of the researched area. Elements like lead, barium, strontium, boron, etc. were also present in sufficient amount in the coals.

The low arsenic concentrations of the coal studied could be related to the geological characteristics of the source area in the basin and to a resulting low degree of arsenic mineralization (realgar or orpiment) of the synsedimentary solutions, which resulted in a paucity of arsenic in the system.

A detailed study has been presented on groundwater metal contents of Sahebgunj district in the state of Jharkhand, India with special reference to arsenic. Both tubewell and well waters have been studied separately with greater emphasis on tubewell waters. Groundwaters of all the nine blocks of Sahebgunj district have been surveyed for iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in addition to arsenic. Groundwaters of three blocks of Sahebgunj, namely, Sahebgunj, Rajmahal and Udhawa have been found to be alarmingly contaminated with arsenic present at or above 10 ppb.

Bakhari village, situated about 20 km from the Ranchi district headquarters in Jharkhand state , has a population of nearly 700, comprising mostly tribal and members of socially underprivileged groups. Two-thirds of the villagers have reportedly developed physical deformities as all the sources of drinking water in Bakhari have excess fluoride content.

It is to be expected that in areas characterized by metal-bearing formations, metals will also occur at elevated levels in the water and bottom sediments of the particular area. There is evidence that the high mercury content in rocks encountered in the catchment of La Grande River, Canada, may be responsible for high mercury levels in organisms (Boyle and Jonasson,1973). It was found that the Aphebian Shale in central and northern Quebec- near the headwaters of the La Grande- contained mercury levels averaging 0.5 ppm , which these authors regard as being high.

A study conducted by Colbourne (1975) confirmed that the stream sediment patterns for arsenic and copper in the Dartmoor area of South-West England may be correlated with significant enrichment of these elements in soils derived from rocks within the metamorphic aureole around the Dartmoor granitic intrusion. Previously it had been concluded that the source of arsenic within the metamorphosed country rocks was the result of hydrothermal activity during phases of granitic intrusion. Similarly, geothermal sources in North Island are a natural source for mercury enrichment.

All living tissues are composed mainly of eleven elements, but to remain viable, minute amounts of a few elements of the transition series also must be present. These act as mediators of the biocatalysts, the enzymes. The trace elements that have been most extensively studied are : Fe, Cu, Mn, Mg, Mo, and Zn. The body as it ages concentrates a large number of other elements; many of these, when present in excess, have been reported as being responsible for the introduction of cancer. Experiments reveal that nickel, cadmium, and some chromium compounds are true metal carcinogens. Arsenic has been strongly indicted as a primary human carcinogen. Asbestos may prove to be a carrier for the carcinogenic metals, nickel and chromium. In the 1980s, earth scientists helped medical scientists to recognize that there was more than one type of material called asbestos, and that the different asbestos materials are not equally carcinogenic. Chrysotile asbestos, for example, is commonly regarded as being less carcinogenic than amphibole asbestos. The last several years have seen renewed public attention on the potential health effects of asbesti form minerals that occur naturally as trace constituents in rocks or mineral deposits. For example, in 1999 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer brought nationwide media and scientific attention to asbestos-related health problems in residents of Libby, Mont. Many residents have diseases that have since been attributed to their exposure to amphibole asbestos minerals. The minerals were naturally inter grown with the vermiculite mined and processed at Libby.

Mercury is regarded as the most toxic metal, followed by cadmium, lead and others although there is no rigid order of toxicity. Contamination of the aqueous environment by cadmium appears to be less widespread than by mercury but has nonetheless hazardous effects on humans. During 1947 an unusual and painful disease of a “rheumatic nature” was recorded in the case of 44 patients from villages (e.g., Fuchu) on the banks of the Jintsu River, Toyama Prefecture, Japan. During subsequent years, it became known as the “itai-itai” disease (meaning “ouch-ouch”) in accordance with the patients shrieks resulting from painful skeletal deformities. However the cause of this disease was completely unknown until 1961, when sufficient evidence led to the postulation that cadmium played a role in its development.

Exposure to toxic levels of trace elements is one of the widespread forms of environmental health problems. Millions of people worldwide suffer health problems because they have been exposed to arsenic, lead, fluorine, mercury, uranium, etc. The devastation caused by excess arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh, West Bengal India and elsewhere has been headline news. An estimated 25 to 75 million people are at risk of arsenosis in that region.

In Guizhou Province, China, the cool, damp autumn weather forces villagers to bring their harvests of chili peppers and corn indoors to dry. They hang the peppers over unvented stoves that, until the middle of the last century, had been fueled by wood. Due to the destruction of the forests, wood is now scarce so the villagers have turned to the plentiful outcrops of coal for heating, cooking and drying their harvests. But mineralizing solutions in this area have deposited enormous concentrations of arsenic - up to 35,000 parts per million - and other trace elements in these coals.

The chili peppers dried over these arsenic-rich coals are a key component of the villagers' diet and, unfortunately, their principal source of arsenic. Thousands of villagers are now suffering from arsenic poisoning and exhibit typical symptoms, including hyperpigmentation (flushed appearance, freckles), hyperkeratosis (scaly lesions on the skin, generally concentrated on the hands and feet), Bowen's disease (dark, horny, pre-cancerous lesions of the skin), and squamous cell carcinoma.

Most trace elements in drinking water are of concern from a public health point of view because of potential for excess above recommended limits. However, some trace elements are essential to health and so are required to be present at certain concentrations in drinking water or food. Iodine is one such essential element. Deficiency in dietary iodine can lead to a number of iodine-deficiency disorders (IDDs) in humans. No regulations or recommendations are placed on concentrations of iodine in drinking water because such standards are imposed to regulate upper rather than lower limits.

As iodine is an essential element for humans, there is considerable interest in its environmental geochemistry. It is unique amongst the elements in that most iodine in the terrestrial environment does not derive from normal weathering of crustal rocks but derives through volatilisation from the oceans, which represent the major reservoir of iodine on the Earth. As a result of this major source of environmental iodine, soils in coastal regions are strongly enriched in iodine, while those far removed from marine influence generally have low iodine contents.

Iodine concentrations in groundwaters (and surface waters) largely lie in the range 0.01–70 µg/l, depending on geographical location and local geology and soils. Higher concentrations can be found in saline waters such as coastal and arid or semi-arid areas. The principal sources of iodine in groundwater are aquifers and soils and the atmosphere. Iodine is found in low concentrations in most rocks because it is incompatible with most rock-forming (silicate) minerals. It may be present in higher concentrations in sulphide minerals, organic matter and iron oxides. Hence sulphide-, organic- and iron- rich rocks and soils tend to have the highest concentrations. Mineral veins (rich in sulphide minerals) and hydrothermal solutions are also relatively concentrated. Of the sedimentary rocks, muds and shales typically have the highest concentrations. Weathered rocks often have higher iodine concentrations than their pristine equivalents, presumably due to interaction with groundwater.

Uranium is present in the environment in low concentrations in all parts of the world, the most abundant deposits being in sedimentary rocks. The main areas of the world with rich uranium deposits are the Colorado plateau in Wyoming in the United States, Blind River and Beaver Lodge districts in Canada, the Erz Mountains in central Europe, the Ural Mountains in Russia, the Rand Mountains in South Africa, the French Alps, Radium Hill in Australia, Jadugoda in India and the Pirinean Mountain range in Spain. Open pit mining has been the preferred way of uranium production, but some deposits are too deep for this type of mining because it necessitates deep underground mining. The range of uranium content of the most ores is between 0.1-1.0% of U3O8. However, much higher grades are frequently found, presenting higher radiation hazards to miners from beta radiation from the ore and inhalation of uranium dust suspended in the air of the mining environment.

Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure, because in addition to being weakly radioactive, uranium is a toxic metal.

As we contemplate an increase in world population and an ageing population, it becomes apparent that evaluating long-term exposure to natural materials in our environment makes cooperation and coordinated study of geology and medicine essential. The intertwining of these areas of knowledge should enable us to continue to improve health and combat disease, and contribute to better living conditions for all people.

Medical geology, a long-recognized but perhaps underutilized discipline, presents the geoscience community with tremendous opportunities for collaborative work with the biomedical and ecological research communities. Such collaborations have great potential to help understand, mitigate and possibly eradicate environmental health problems that have plagued humans for thousands of years.


Boyle, R. W., Jonasson, I.R. 1973. The geochemistry of arsenic and its use as an indicator element in geochemical prospecting. J. Geochem. Explor.2, 251-296.

Colbourne, P., Alloway, B.J., Thornton, I., 1975. Arsenic and heavy metals in soils associated with regional geochemical anaomalies in southwest England. Sci. Total Environ. 4, 359-363.

Forstner,U. and Wittmann, G.T.W. 1979. Metal Pollution in the Aquatic Environment. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, New York.

Priyadarshi, N. 2004. Distribution of arsenic in Permian Coals of North Karanpura coalfield, Jharkhand. Jour. Geol. Soc. India, 63, 533-536.

Radhakrishna, B.P. 2005. Medical Geology. Jr. of The Geological Society of India, v.66, no.4. p.395.