Medical geology

BGS Research

A handheld monitoring device is being pressed against a pile of soil and gravel
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Handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer being used for metal contaminant determination in waste soil. BGS © UKRI.

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Medical geology is the study of the relationships between geoenvironmental factors and the health of plants, animals and humans. BGS has extensive expertise researching medical geology issues in the UK and internationally and the association between environmental geochemistry and health in particular.

Geochemistry and health issues can arise as a consequence of a lack of essential nutrients in geological materials such as soil and water, resulting in inadequate uptake into plants, animals and humans via the food chain. The ability of the natural environment to provide adequate essential nutrients is of prime importance to agricultural management. Issues can also be caused by exposure to high concentrations of potentially harmful chemical substances in the environment (air; dust; soil; water; foodstuffs). Elevated concentrations of potentially harmful substances can occur naturally, as a consequence of geological and other environmental processes, or as a result of pollution by human activities.  

Medical geology and geochemistry and health investigations examine the source, dispersion, behaviour, uptake and health impacts of chemical substances in the environment to aid ecosystem management and health protection. In the UK, much of this work has been carried out using the G-BASE and TellusNI  geochemistry datasets.

BGS is an international leader in the development of methods for the measurement, modelling and understanding of the mobility of chemical substances in the environment and in the determination of the bioaccessibility of potentially harmful substances to aid health hazard assessments.

In addition, extensive medical geology programmes are carried out by the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry  (view the centre’s publications) and by the BGS Groundwater programme.

Our research

Medical geology – measurement of geochemical hazards 


Selected UK-based bioaccessibility studies

Lead bioaccessibility in topsoils from lead mineralisation and urban domains, UK.

Modelling lead bioaccessibility in urban topsoils based on data from Glasgow, London, Northampton and Swansea, UK

Anthropogenic and geogenic impacts on arsenic bioaccessibility in UK topsoils

Bioaccessibility of trace elements in soils in Northern Ireland.

Determination of the bioaccessibility of chromium in Glasgow soil and the implications for human health risk assessment

Measurement modelling and mapping of arsenic bioaccessibility in Northampton, United Kingdom

The importance of solid-phase distribution on the oral bioaccessibility of Ni and Cr in soils overlying Palaeogene basalt lavas, Northern Ireland

A lead isotopic study of the human bioaccessibility of lead in urban soils from Glasgow, Scotland

Kelleher, A M. 1999. Assessment of Lead and Arsenic Bioavailability in Surface Soils in the Cardiff Area. MSc Thesis. Cardiff University.

Lability of Pb in soil: effects of soil properties and contaminant source

The effects of lead sources on oral bioaccessibility in soil and implications for contaminated land risk management

Linking selective chemical extraction of iron oxyhydroxides to arsenic bioaccessibility in soil

Bioaccessibility of arsenic in soils developed over Jurassic ironstones in eastern England

Linkage between solid-phase apportionment and bioaccessible arsenic, chromium and lead in soil from Glasgow, Scotland, UK

The solid phase distribution and bioaccessibility of arsenic, chromium, and nickel in natural ironstone soils in the UK

The Link between Soil Geochemistry in South-West England and Human Exposure to Soil Arsenic

For groundwater geochemistry and health studies see Groundwater and Health

Further information about our work


Medical geology — measuring geochemical hazards

Understanding and assessing geochemical hazards in the environment has been a part of the BGS portfolio of research for over 50 years.

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geoscientist in the lab

Centre for Environmental Geochemistry

The Centre for Environmental Geochemistry focuses on the use of geochemistry in research, training and teaching.

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International projects

Selected International Environmental Geochemistry and Geochemistry and Health projects that BGS have been involved with.

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Applied geochemistry

Since the 1960s, the BGS has amassed considerable geochemical data holdings and developed significant expertise in applied geochemistry.

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Environmental change

Environmental change, adaptation and resilience

We are undertaking research aimed at reducing vulnerability, protecting resources and building resilience in response to substantial environmental changes.

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