What does the ground beneath our feet have to do with human health? A lot, as it turns out. Just like clean air and pure water, healthy soil is vital to our wellbeing.
On the most basic level, soil supports and nourishes the plants that we eat—and that our chickens, dairy cows, and other livestock eat. Soil filters and purifies much of the water we drink, as well.
Healthy soils also play a role in human disease and medicine. Protecting soil from erosion helps reduce the amount of air-borne dust we breathe. Soils teem with microorganisms that have given us many life-saving medications, including the antibiotic streptomycin, and cyclosporine—a drug widely used to prevent transplant patients from rejecting their new organs.
Unfortunately, soils can also be a source of disease. Lead in soil from chipped lead paint and other sources can be a danger to children who play in mud and dirt. Soil can also harbor disease-causing microorganisms such as the bacterium that causes tetanus, or “lockjaw.”
In short, healthy soils = healthy people. And with some 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050, maintaining the health of our soils is more important than ever before.