By Dan Oancea

In 1874, Jules Verne published an amusing little story (‘Dr. Ox’s Experiment’) that highlights the invigorating effects of a then little known gas (pure oxygen). It was the beginning of understanding that chemical elements are to be considered as major factors that influence people’s well being.

The influence that the surrounding environment has on people’s health and quality of life has already been recognized by different branches of science. We all know about the effect that an endless night, or continuous rain, or the sound of waves, or the chirping of birds has over ourselves.

We are also told that we are what we eat. Scientists analyze teeth belonging to ancient populations thereby being able to locate the place where they spent their youth and/or adulthood. These analyses are possible because of our present knowledge – i.e. detailed soil geochemical maps exist in some parts of the world. And the soils that supported crops are different from one region to another, one country to another.

Here we get to rocks and minerals. Rocks and minerals have heavily contributed to generate soils that are enriched in differing geochemical elements. Water seeps through both of them and takes into solution some of the elements. These elements could be considered either beneficial or detrimental for plants and animals. Humans included.

A new branch of science has been lately developed: Medical Geology. It is an inter-disciplinary science that takes into account the whole picture, the interaction human - nature, the effects that rocks and minerals have on human populations that have to eat crops cultivated on soils slightly enriched in naturally occurring chemical elements/contaminants. Any water source would also be affected by the presence of some of these elements that are naturally leached from underground strata.

I was a young backpacker, a Geology student, and I was visiting a picturesque rural European region. An extensive Tertiary volcanic range provided for local people, people involved mostly in subsistence agriculture, cattle farming, forestry and mining.

Somehow I managed to have schnapps with one of the local folks and he told me a nice story. He sold one of his cows to somebody living in another village some kilometers away. The cow looked good but once it got to the new place it simply refused to drink water provided by the buyer. Two days later the buyer and the cow were back at the seller’s door. Once it got back home the thirsty animal got to near the water well and started to drink as if it had just completed a long journey across the desert. Not convinced by the evidence - 'you see, of course that it drinks water' - the buyer got his money back. At the same time the seller realized that he cannot sell the animal to anybody else but to local people.

Why is that? It’s because of the extinct volcanoes. Carbon dioxide emitted by deep underground magma still seeps into the aquifer. The water leaches some other volcanic rocks minerals and is then collected in wells for human and animal use or it just seeps in a multitude of carbonated springs. But the carbon dioxide makes the water tastier for people and animals alike. The cow was used to drinking the naturally occurring soda so plain water didn’t make it for it anymore. And it wasn’t me who reached this conclusion but the local farmer who realized that the animal likes only carbonated water, so he would be able to sell it only to somebody who has a well fed by the same aquifer which is also feeding his well – i.e. another local farmer. Now, that’s hydrogeology and medical geology in its purest form. And a good business plan.

To be continued …