Soil: A public health threat or savior?

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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

26 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 - Dec 1 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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