Pollution from multiple sources causes significant disease and death worldwide. Some sources are legacy, such as heavy metals accumulated in soils, and some are current, such as particulate matter. Because the global burden of disease from pollution is so high, it is important to identify legacy and current sources and to develop and implement effective techniques to reduce human exposure. But many limitations exist in our understanding of the distribution and transport processes of pollutants themselves, as well as the complicated overprint of human behavior and susceptibility.
New approaches are being developed to identify and eliminate pollution in multiple environments. Community-scale detection of geogenic arsenic and fluoride in Bangladesh is helping to map the distribution of these harmful elements in drinking water. Biosensors such as bees and their honey are being used to measure heavy metal contamination in cities such as Vancouver and Sydney. Drone-based remote sensors are being used to map metal hot spots in soils from former mining regions in Zambia and Mozambique. The explosion of low-cost air monitors has allowed researchers to build dense air quality sensing networks to capture ephemeral and local releases of harmful materials, building on other developments in personal exposure sensing. And citizen science is helping communities without adequate resources measure their own environments and in this way gain agency in controlling local pollution exposure sources and/or alerting authorities to environmental hazards. The future of GeoHealth will depend on building on these developments and others to protect a growing population from multiple pollution exposure risks.