HCOL 195 - Geology's intersection with health: Interpreting scientific evidence and how it impacts medical, policy, and legal cases

Course objectives:

Students will be able to apply basic principles of mineralogy and geochemistry to address the distribution and transport of minerals and contaminants in the environment.

Students will be able to assess the quality and inherent uncertainty associated with quantitiative geologic, chemical, health, and risk assessment data.

Students will be able to interpret scientific evidence and properly apply it to arguments concerning regulatory policy and law.


 This course will discuss several topical areas illustrating how geological processes can intersect human health problems, and the social, political, and legal ramifications of those problems.  We will focus on oil and gas use, asbestos mineral dusts, and groundwater arsenic contamination as examples of processes controlled by geological processes but which also importantly have effects on human health.  We will apply scientific method to these problems, and practice scientific investigations on parts of these problems.   Readings will be assigned regularly, for each reading students will be expected to turn in a ‘crib sheet’ with 1 page of notes based on the readings, including at least one question based on the reading.  There will be additional reports based on class exercises where we will generate scientific data to test particular hypotheses.  Each student will also prepare 2 papers during the course of the semester, one in the style of a peer-reviewed scientific paper and one in the style of a scientific news article.


An introduction to the details of the scientific method:  http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/howscienceworks_01  there are 21 pages of  material here, along with some side stories, but I want you to get acquanted with how scienitific problems are often put together and how they iteratively develop into solutions...

Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article:

Intro powerpoint on Petroleum Geology:

Powerpoint on drilling techniques

In-class exercise on oil deposits

Review paper on oil spll cleanup worker health effects

09-28-10 - Presentation - Introduction to Asbestos

09-30-10 - Toxicity of Mineral Dusts article

10-12-10 - Mineral analysis review

10-14-10 - Mineralogy of the VAG deposit article

10-14-10 - We will meet for class in Delehanty Hall, room 218.  Please bring any additional samples you want to look at using polarized light microscopy or X-ray diffraction!   Delehanty Hall is on Trinity campus and is the building with the green slate facade and giant chunks of granite in front...  218 is our microscope room on the second floor.

Review of lung fiber retention and mesotheloima

10-26-2010 - Paper on geochemical modeling of biopersistence

10-28-2010 - Original VT Department of Health Report on environmental asbestosis/mesothelioma risk near VAG mine
note: additional info and the corrected version of this may be found at the VT DOH website: http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/asbestos/vagm-healthstudy.aspx

11-02-2010 - Paper on epidemiology of Vermont Granite workers in Barre, VT

11-09-10 - Instructions for your scientific review report to your senator on a new "Ban Asbestos" bill
    Webpage with 2008 Ban Asbestos Bill summary
    Webpage with Senate Ban Asbestos Bill
    Supporting document: NIOSH roadmap for asbestos
    Supporting document: NAS review of the NIOSH roadmap
    EPA summary of current asbestos product bans, limitations
    USGS summary of asbestos minerals, uses, mining

11-18-10 - Instructions for looking into the Libby trial case
Link to the website with info and blog postings from the Libby criminal trial case
Powerpoint presentation overview of legal proceedings

12-02-2010 - Overview of arsenic in groundwater of SE Asia - "world's largest case of mass poisoning"
movie link - Arsenic in New England

12-07-2010 - Overview of Arsenic Health Effects

12-09-2010 - Overview of Arsenic drinking water regulatory limits in developing nations

12-09-2010 - Final Writing Assignment:  In 500 (±50) words (I recommend using microsoft word and the word count tool to monitor this) state your position, in a ‘letter to the editor’ blog, why Vermont should, or should not, change its drinking water standard from 10ppb to 5 ppb.  Use specific data/info from references you have or find (bibliography at the end does not count towards the word total) to support your position.