Geoscience & Health
- Published on July 18, 2017
If there is one thing that nearly every person experiences – it is getting sick. We have all had colds or the flu. A sore back. A toothache. We count on our doctors to listen, provide a diagnosis for whatever ails us, and recommend a way forward. But did you know that your health care starts way before the moment when you step into your doctor’s office and she listens to your heart? It might surprise you to learn that geoscience plays an integral, essential role in keeping you, your family, your pets, and the natural world around you in fighting shape.
I could talk about how clean air and water impact public health, which they do, but let’s instead go somewhere a little less obvious. Fact: Geoscientists provide the raw materials for the medical instruments, diagnostic equipment, vitamins, and pharmaceuticals that keep us healthy, and in extreme cases, keep us alive.
Extractive industries (oil and gas exploration, metal and mineral mining, groundwater pumping) play a critical role in supporting the medical industry supply chain. Let’s start small: One essential tool that doctors use is the stethoscope, which is made of— among other things – stainless steel and plastic. That cold piece of metal that allows the doctor to hear your heartbeat comes from extracted metal ore.
The plastic? It’s derived from petroleum.
Larger pieces of diagnostic equipment, like MRI machines, are manufactured in much the same way.
But the role of the geoscientist doesn’t end once a stethoscope or an MRI machine is deployed in a hospital. In fact, to keep that technology running, another critical extracted element is required to keep it cool: helium. An MRI cannot run without it. Actually, it is the single largest use of helium (not those balloons we all grew up loving at birthday parties)!
Did you know that helium comes from the same wells that produce natural gas? It’s true. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are thirteen plants in the United States that extract helium from natural gas. The United States is the leading producer of helium and has the largest known reserves in the world.
The main thing to take away? Patients are dependent on extractive industries in ways many of us don’t realize. And don’t forget – we wouldn’t have extractive industries without #geoscience. How is geoscience central to your everyday life? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me @AAndersonBook with the hashtag #nexusofeverything.
P.S. Next week's teaser...we are the air we breathe.