Dr Geoff Plumlee

Research Geochemist

U.S. Geological Survey
Crustal imaging and Characterization Team
MS964 Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225
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Research Expertise


As part of ongoing US Geological Survey (USGS) research into the links between earth materials and human health, Dr. Geoff Plumlee and earth- and health-science colleagues examine the role that mineralogy, morphology, and chemistry play in the biosolubility, bioreactivity, and toxicity of geological materials. Examples of materials studied to date include volcanic ash, asbestos, contaminated and natural soils, coal fly ash, mine wastes, dry lakebed dusts, wildfire ash, flood sediments, and lunar regolith simulant. These studies integrate detailed mineralogical and chemical characterization of the earth materials with geochemical solubility studies and various toxicity tests. The solubility studies utilize simulated biofluids (simulated lung, lysosomal, gastric, and intestinal fluids) and serum-based fluids to simulate how minerals may react chemically in the body. The toxicity tests carried out by colleagues in the health sciences provide a means for directly interpreting toxicity effects in terms of particle mineralogy, composition, and solubility. Geologic materials range from highly biosoluble materials with bioaccessible, potentially toxic heavy metals (such as dusts from dry lake beds), to biodurable materials (such as asbestos or crystalline silica) whose toxicity in part results from long-term stability in the body, to reactive materials that can produce significant short-term shifts in fluid chemistry (such as highly alkaline concrete dusts). The results of these studies show that most geologic materials commonly are complex mixtures of many different minerals that may interact chemically in the body to produce unique chemical and toxicity effects that vary considerably from those produced by the individual minerals.


In addition, Dr. Plumlee and his colleagues have applied their interdisciplinary approach to interpret characteristics of potential environmental or health concern of a variety of materials produced by extreme events. These include:
  • Dusts generated by the attacks on and collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001;
  • Flood sediments left behind in the greater New Orleans area following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005;
  • Ash and burned soils from the 2007 southern California wildfires;
  • Volcanic ash from various volcanic eruptions (1980 and 2004-2005 Mt. St. Helens; 1989-1990 Spurr; 1991 Pinatubo; 2001 Santa Ana; 2008 Kilauea, Okmok, and Kasatochi);
  • Muds erupted from the ongoing (2006-present) East Java Indonesia mud volcano;
  • Tailings and mine wastes released from the Marcopper mine, Marinduque Island, Philippines, as a result of impoundment failure.


Relevant Publications


Plumlee, G.S., Casadevall, T.J., Wibowo, H.T., Rosenbauer, R.J., Johnson, C.A., Breit, G.N., Lowers, H.A., Wolf, R.E., Hageman, P.L., Goldstein, H., Berry, C.J., Fey, D.L., Meeker, G.P., and Morman, S.A. 2008) ‘Preliminary analytical results for a mud sample collected from the LUSI mud volcano, Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia’, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report, 2008-1019, 24 p.

Plumlee, G.S., and Ziegler, T.L. (2007) ‘The medical geochemistry of dusts, soils, and other earth materials’, In Lollar, B.S. (ed), Treatise on Geochemistry, online update, 9(7), Elsevier, pp. 1-61.

Plumlee, G.S., Foreman, W.T., Griffin, D.W., Lovelace, J.K., Meeker, G.P., and Demas, C.R. (2007) ‘Characterization of flood sediments from Hurricane Katrina and Rita and potential implications for human health and the environment’, In Farris, G.S., Smith, G.J., Crane, M. P., Demas, C.R., Robbins, L.L., and Lavoie, D.L., (eds), Science and the storms: the USGS response to the hurricanes of 2005: U.S. Geological Survey Circular, 1306, p. 246-257.

Plumlee, G.S., Martin, D.A., Hoefen, T., Kokaly, R., Hageman, P., Eckberg, A., Meeker, G.P., Adams, M., Anthony, M., and Lamothe, P.J. (2007) ‘Preliminary analytical results for ash and burned soils from the October 2007 Southern California Wildfires’, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1407, 13 p.,

Plumlee, G.S., Morman, S.A., and Ziegler, T.L. (2006) ‘The toxicological geochemistry of earth materials: an overview of processes and the interdisciplinary methods used to study them’, In N. Sahai and M. Schoonen, (eds.), ‘Medical Mineralogy and Geochemistry’, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, 64, 5-58.

Plumlee, G.S., Hageman, P.L., Lamothe, P.J., Ziegler, T.L., Meeker, G.P., Theodorakos, P., Brownfield, I., Adams, M., Swayze, G.A., Hoefen, T., Taggart, J.E., Clark, R.N., Wilson, S., and Sutley, S. (2005) ‘Inorganic chemical composition and chemical reactivity of settled dust generated by the World Trade Center building collapse’, in Gaffney, J.S. and Marley, N.A. (eds.), ‘Urban Aerosols and Their Impacts: Lessons Learned from the World Trade Center Tragedy’, American Chemical Society Symposium Series, 919, p. 238-276.

Miller, W.R., and Sanzolone, R.F. (2003) ‘Investigation of the possible connection of rock and soil geochemistry to the occurrence of high rates of neurodegenerative diseases on Guam and a hypothesis for the cause of the diseases’, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report, 03-126.

USGS. (2002) ‘USGS Environmental Studies of the World Trade Center Area, New York City, after September 11, 2001’, U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet, 050-02,

Van Gosen, B.S., Lowers, H.A., Bush, A.L., Meeker, G.P., Plumlee, G.S., Brownfield, I.K., and Sutley, S.J. (2002) ‘Reconnaissance study of the geology of U.S. vermiculite deposits: Are asbestos minerals common constituents’, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, 2192, 8 p.

Clark, R.N., R.O. Green, G.A. Swayze, G. Meeker, S. Sutley, T.M. Hoefen, K.E. Livo, G. Plumlee, B. Pavri, C. Sarture, S. Wilson, P. Hageman, P. Lamothe, J. S. Vance, J. Boardman, I. Brownfield, C. Gent, L.C. Morath, J. Taggart, P.M. Theodorakos, and M. Adams. (2001) ‘Environmental Studies of the World Trade Center area after the September 11, 2001 attack’, U. S. Geological Survey Open File Report, 01-0429. 


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