"Medical Geology" – Using geochemical data in epidemiological studies – New Insights from Europe and Israel
Moshe Shirav, Shimon Ilani, Ludwik Halicz, Olga Yoffe, Dina Shtibber, Yaakov Raphael.
Medical Geology, the study of impacts of geologic materials and processes on animal and human health, is an emerging dynamic discipline which brings together geoscience, public health and biomedical communities to solve a wide range of environmental health problems. During the past decades Medical Geology has gained broad global recognition. The International Medical Geology Association (IMGA) has more than 500 members from almost 80 countries.
Numerous European studies of complex multifactorial disorders which typically arise in individuals genetically at risk due to the presence of permissive environmental factors are investigating the possible correlation between the incidence of studied complex traits and some chemical elements and compounds present in soils and stream sediments in some areas. Notable results of these studies are: the identification of amorphous silica particles with surface absorbed Zinc as the trigger of Type1Diabetes epidemic in Finland and the association between high incidence of some cancer types and Chromium dispersal in sediments in the Province of Salerno (Italy).
Detailed results from a geochemical survey carried out in northern Israel were compared with the spatial distribution of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) obtained from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, it showed an identical pattern, the latter governed by long-term precipitation and deposition following the prevailing weather systems. Based on complementary analyses of metals collected from filters of air-quality stations in the area, it is suggested that the build-up of trace metals in soils and stream sediments can serve as a proxy for evaluating the effects of exposure to pollutants of anthropogenic origin on inhabitants in the area.
The geochemical information for the Haifa area and the West Galilee was incorporated with research data from the Hadassah Hospital (Jerusalem) in a comprehensive analysis of the geographical distribution of cancer in Israel. It reported “an increased coincidence of cancer in Cadmium-rich areas within Haifa and the West Galilee". These results were later confirmed by employing a Factor Analysis study of Standardized Incidence Ratios (SIR) calculated for 3 cancer types in the same area (Eitan et al., Technion, Haifa) and our data, they reveal a positive relation between cancer and a suite of anthropogenic-derived metals - Sb, Pb, Cd, Cu and Mo. More recently, Molybdenum (reported as a pancreatic beta-cells disfunction agent) in soil and stream sediments was found to correlate with the incidence of Pediatric Type 1 Diabetes in northern Israel. The latter implies a linkage with our identification of Molybdenum in micron-sized particles of street dust collected from Haifa & environs traffic routes.
The status and availability of geochemical and related (Radon; Terrestrial radiation) Databases at the GSI will also be addressed.