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USGS - Human Health Link at Philadelphia Meeting
Released: 11/10/2002

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Diane Noserale 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4333

Dust and Human Health, Mercury and Arsenic in Drinking Water, West Nile Virus

Note to Editors: Arrange an interview with USGS scientists during the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting (APHA) by visiting the USGS Exhibit at booths 1441 and 1443, Exhibit Hall A in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, or call Michelle Barret on 601-594-6234, or Scott Harris 703-201-3230.

Dust from the Towers: In the days following last year’s terrorist attacks, USGS received a request from EPA and U.S. Public Health Service to help characterize and map the dusts deposited by the World Trade Center collapse. Within a week of the attacks, USGS scientists had worked with NASA to acquire state of the art satellite imagery over lower Manhattan, and were on the ground in New York sampling the dusts. By September 27, USGS scientists had characterized many of the dust samples, and released results of their work in two reports to emergency responders. Geochemist Geoffrey Plumlee will be available to discuss the team’s work. A fact sheet summarizing the USGS work, USGS Environmental Studies of the World Trade Center Area, New York City, after September 11, 2001, is available on: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0050-02/

Dust from Africa’s Drought: Each year, millions of tons of air-borne dust cross the Atlantic from Africa, and arrive in the Amazon basin, the Caribbean, and southeastern U.S. Traveling with the dust is a rogues’ gallery — bacteria, viruses, spores, insects, and heavy metals — that can be harmful to human health. Since 1970, North Africa’s drought has dramatically increased the quantities of dust arriving, and during that time, asthma cases have increased 17-fold in parts of the Caribbean. Scientist Dale Griffin will be available to discuss this research. Photo gallery and mini-documentary "The Effects of Globally Transported African and Asian Dust on Coral Reef and Human Health" are available on: http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/african_dust/

Wild Birds Can Provide Early Warning of a Human Disease: Like a canary in a coalmine, wild birds often provide us the earliest indication of West Nile Virus’ presence. Since 1999, scientists have detected the virus in 146 bird species. State and local health departments depend upon the testing of dead birds for West Nile Virus surveillance. USGS is continuing to provide West Nile Virus surveillance support to state public health, wildlife, and federal agencies that are collecting and testing wild birds to detect West Nile Virus activity in their areas. USGS mapping and wildlife disease scientists are working with the Centers for Disease Control in field research to investigate the role of migratory birds in disseminating the virus and to determine the pathways by which the virus is maintained and spread. USGS has posted maps showing the geographic and temporal spread of West Nile Virus across the U.S. Scientist Emi Saito will be available to discuss this work. Maps are updated weekly and are accessible at: http://cindi.usgs.gov/hazard/event/west_nile/west_nile.html

Water Quality and Human Health: Drinking water in many parts of the world contains contaminants that affect human health. Parts of south Asia are on the verge of a human health disaster from one contaminant alone, naturally occurring arsenic, in groundwater. Officials estimate that the health of tens ofmillions is in jeopardy in that region. Although the problem of unsafe drinking water is most acute in developing countries, naturally occurring and human-caused contamination of water supplies occurs in the U.S. Arsenic, mercury, viruses, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and organic compounds are among the contaminants that have been found in U.S. waters. Scientists at the USGS are working to provide objective scientific information on the occurrence and behavior of toxic substances in hydrologic environments. In coordination with other state, federal, and international agencies, this information is used to characterize and manage contaminated sites, to protect human and environmental health, and to reduce potential future contamination problems. USGS scientists also have developed new methods to test for contaminants. When West Nile Virus was first detected in New York and increased insecticide use began, USGS recognized the need to develop and test highly sensitive analytical methods to monitor for insecticides at very low concentrations in environmental waters. This year, USGS initiated a pilot study on Long Island because it is one of the many places across the U.S. that has an active mosquito control program aimed at combating the spread of West Nile Virus. Other communities will face similar questions about the increased use of mosquito-control insecticides for West Nile Virus. USGS hydrologists will be available to discuss this research.

The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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