Health & ecosystems

The health of both humans and ecosystems is intimately linked to the natural environment. The relationships are complex and require interdisciplinary approaches to the development of understanding of the processes and mitigation of the problems. It is increasingly clear that environmental impacts on humans and ecosystems concern processes that span the biological and geological sciences. BGS has been involved in developing state-of-the-art laboratory methods to investigate various aspects of the geochemical, physico-chemical and biochemical interactions that provide a toolbox of methodologies for use in health and ecosystem research.

These methodologies include:

  • quantifying potentially harmful substances in environmental matrices (rocks, soil, water, air, vegetation)
  • identifying their source, chemical form and distribution within the matrices under study
  • assessing the exposure to and uptake of these substances by sensitive organisms using:
    • extrapolation using geochemical data
    • in-vitro methods to mimic biological processes (e.g. ingestion, inhalation, plant uptake)
    • biomonitoring (e.g. hair, fingernails, urine for humans; earth worms and plants for ecosystems)

Selected research

G-BASE National geochemical map Potassium (K) in stream sedimentsAssessment of ecosystem exposure to natural radionuclides

Using G-BASE geochemical data to estimate environmental activities of radionuclides and dose to organisms.

Fertiliser applicationAlleviating micronutrient malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa

Ecosystem services concepts have potential to link biogeochemistry, health and policy formulation as a tool for poverty alleviation.

Cows rely on sufficient iodine intake from the pasture they graze, but in some areas require dietary iodine supplementsSoil iodine and healthy diets

Iodine is essential for health and is taken up by crops from the soil. Current research shows that the soil itself has an important part to play in determining how much iodine reaches our food.

Toenail sampleAssessing arsenic exposure using speciation analysis

Analysis of arsenic species in worms, toenails and soils provides new insights into environmental exposure to arsenic in a metal-mined area of the UK.