Soil: A public health threat or savior?

I. L. Pepper, C. P. Gerba, D. T. Newby, C. W. Rice

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Soil is the most complicated biomaterial on the planet due to complexsoil architecture and billions of soil microbes with extremebiotic diversity. Soil is potentially a source of human pathogens, which can be defined as geo-indigenous, geo-transportable, or geotreatable. Such pathogens cumulatively can and do result in multiplehuman fatalities annually. A striking example is Helminths, with current infections worldwide estimated to be around two billion. However, soil can also be a source of antibiotics and other natural products that enhance human health. Soilborne antibioticsare used to treat human infections, but can also result inantibiotic-resistant bacteria. Natural products isolated from soil resulted in 60% of new cancer drugs between the period 1983-1994.Soils are also crucial to human health through their impact on human nutrition. Finally, from a global perspective, soils are vitalto the future well-being of nations through their impact on climate change and global warming. A critical review of soil with respectto public health leads to the conclusion that overall soil is a public health savior. The value of soil using a systems approach is estimatedto be $20 trillion, and is by far the most valuable eco systemin the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-432
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009


  • Antibiotics
  • Geoindigenous pathogens
  • Natural products
  • Soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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