Geological impacts on human health and environment

Many people think that geology has nothing to do with studies relating to the origin, structure, composition, and other phenomena in the planet's crust. It's not like that. Geology, for example, has a significant influence on human health and the environment. Do you want to know how this process goes? Keep reading.

There is a direct link between geology and human health due to the ingestion and inhalation of chemical elements through nutrition and breathing

The relationship between geology and human health is because the human body needs several chemical elements to maintain metabolic activities.

Geological factors that impact human health as well as the environment:

  • natural dust that occurs naturally in surface water, deep water, and on land

  • volcanic activities, rock erosions, desert dust, etc.

  • occupational exposure to raw materials


Geophagy is the compulsive habit of eating soil. The etiology of geophagy remains elusive. Both physiologic (e.g., mineral deficiency or hunger) and psychological (e.g., craving, obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder).

In other words, this consumption of soil, ground-up rock, termite mound earth, clay, and dirt—widespread in mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates. The habit is also common among many contemporary indigenous peoples, including the Aboriginal people of Australia and the traditional peoples of East Africa and China.


Process of fragmentation of rocks in soils where agricultural products are grown and for animal husbandry, being their source of food. Also known as stonemeal.

The problem is the "inability" of the environment to promote the chemical balance of the elements. This kind of "failure" can cause serious health issues in people, especially those who live in sandy or rocky regions and depend on the local environment to supply their food.

According to geologist and researcher Anderson MagalhĂŁes, Master in Geology from the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil, "Approximately 25 of the elements are known to be essential to the life of plants and animals, such as Ca, Mg, Fe, Co, Cu, Zn, P, N, S, Se, I and Mo. Interestingly, the excess of some of these elements can cause intoxication, as in the case of As, Cd, Pb, Hg, and Al that do not have a biological function or have it in a limited way and, therefore, become toxic to man."

Most heavy metals are super-important for different biological functions of the body, such as these micronutrients:

  • Cobalt

  • Covers

  • Manganese

  • Molybdenum

  • Zinc

  • Nickel

  • Vanadium

On the other hand, comparative analyses of metals in sediments, waters, and biological tissues show that plants and animals’ assimilation and accumulation can vary significantly from one environment to another.

Depending on the site, environmental impacts caused by certain elements were low, i.e., there were weak correlations between high metal contents in tailings and low levels in people, animals, and plants in these places.

Some chemical elements that harm health and the environment:

  1. Inorganic arsenic: because it is super-toxic, exposure to arsenic can cause dangerous effects on the skin, mucous membranes, nervous system, bone marrow, liver, and heart.

  2. Radon: it is a radioactive gas that appears naturally. Because it is colorless and odorless, the radon enters the organic system "sneakily" in the form of radioactive particles through inhalation, leading to the risk of cancer in the respiratory tract, especially in the lungs. It derives through the radioactive decay of uranium.

  3. Uranium: found in low concentrations in soils and rocks, when released, uranium produces low-intensity poisoning by inhalation or absorption by the skin. When this happens, it can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and burns, weakening the lymphatic system, blood, bones, kidneys, and liver.

  4. Kaolin: Technically, kaolin is not an element but rather a generic term that refers to a specific type of white clay consisting of calcium and aluminum-based minerals. Kaolin tailings can contaminate environments and the flora, fauna, water system, and soil morphophysiological system.

  5. Aluminum: despite being one of the most abundant element present in the earth's crust, aluminum has reduced biological function. Therefore, it can interfere with the metabolism of various life forms. In phytoplankton, it can inhibit the absorption and physiological processes of phosphorus. High concentrations of this metal in humans can lead to memory loss and dementia, such as those caused by Alzheimer's disease.

  6. Iron: the toxicological effects resulting from excessive iron intake can increase oxygen-free radicals’ production in the body, responsible for degenerative diseases and the aging process.

  7. Zinc: in humans and animals, zinc acts as a catalytic and structural component of numerous enzymes involved in energy metabolism. Excess of zinc may cause a reduction of copper in the body, causing the emergence of muscle pain, anorexia, intestinal bleeding, and brain abnormalities.

  8. Mercury: the excess of this element in the air - on a global scale - is due (among other causes) to mining activities. Its environmental contamination extends to water, such as particulate matter, river sediment, and riverside vegetation. In gold mining, for example, it can generate erosion that transports mercury to local water bodies, compromising groundwater.


By Marco Veado - THINK GREEN