Health and Well-being in Earth Science

Geology for Global Development 7th Annual Conference
Health and Well-being in Earth Science

The Geology for Global Development (GfGD) 7th Annual Conference was held in Geological Society of London on 15th November 2019. This is the second time I attend this conference. Compared with the meeting last year on water resources, which focused mostly on hydrology and biogeochemistry, I can see a clear shift in focus this year to incorporate social science in Earth Science.

The theme this year is Earth Science, Health and Well-being and the conference thus is particularly framed in Sustainable Development Goals 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. It was a one-day conference but it was intense and informative by including multiple presentations and a panel discussion. Attendees were from diversified background, including engineering, epidemiology, biogeochemistry, geochemistry, environmental social science and international development.

There are a few interesting angles introduced in the presentations that worth to share. Dr. Chris Broadbent, who works as a civil engineer and also an environmentalist at Wardell Armstrong, was excited to introduce his social consideration in mining operations. He mapped out numerous social impacts can be potentially resulting from mining operations, ranging from health, environment, to local culture, traffic and even labour market. He further introduced the consultants approach they used in evaluating mining projects with two predominant focuses on stakeholder engagement and public consultation. The approach has not only facilitated the mutual dialogue between scientists, engineers and local communities, but also enriched the local knowledge about mining through training. Both Chris’ job role and his proposed approach turn to be a nice reflection on the growing importance of social consideration in earth science. The emphasis on local engagement has been not only highlighted in Sendai Framework early this year when I was at 2019 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction but also underpinned in Geological studies here, indicating the rising role of multi-stakeholder engagement and the need for a bottom-up approach.

Similarly, Geraint Burrows, who works for Ground Water Relief, a company that provides technical support to organisations engaged in supplying water to the world's poorest and most vulnerable people, also shared his views on integrating humanitarian in hydrogeology. He thought the consideration of environment and economy were more a long-term developmental goal, while humanitarian tend to look at short term goals on life saving and well-beings. After introducing the water supply projects in Cox’s Bazar and Sierra, he echoed the serious shortfall in hydrogeological knowledges in developing countries due to the engineer reluctance and lack of time and budget. Similar to Chris’s mining operations, his presentation further underlined the need for local knowledge on hydrogeology and increased local engagement when implementing any water supply projects. 

Prof. Jane Entwistle, a geochemist at Northumbria University shared her research on Dust and Diet. By investigating the Pb exposure in soil, her research group constructed an exposure metrics for different vegetables and fruits. While they found root vegetables such as carrot and beetroot tend to have higher geomean Pb, their identified health-affordable threshold is much higher than the UK guideline value, suggesting that UK soil screening value might be overly protective. Jane’s research, again, nicely demonstrate how the consideration of human side in geochemistry study. She further introduced her ongoing project on indoor dust contamination that contains two phrases. Basically, for the first phrase, users can register online and leave their home address, to which her research group will send over some test tubes. The users can place the collected dust (from dust catcher) into the tubes and send back the samples. Her research group will then investigate the indoor air quality in terms of NO2, VoC, PM and CO. For the second, her research group will go to each home to do DNA sequencing and further study the composition of air pollutants.

Overall, it is excited to see such a shift in the conference theme this year as well as the design of research across the fields of civil engineering, hydrogeology and geochemistry. They have both stemmed from the standpoint of solid Earth science to a consideration of social and human domain. It is also delighted to see a growing number of researchers are translating their scientific knowledge into some language that can be understood by local communities. They are trying to use their scientific intelligence to really help local people and households. Such a blurred boundary between natural science and social science reflects the growing need for an integrated view and interdisciplinary approach in addressing the pressing challenges uncovered by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

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