Mercury Levels in Human Hair and Farmed Fish near Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Communities in the Madre de Dios River Basin, Peru.
ABSTRACT: Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has been an important source of income for communities in the Madre de Dios River Basin in Peru for hundreds of years. However, in recent decades, the scale of ASGM activities in the region has increased dramatically, and exposures to a variety of occupational and environmental hazards related to ASGM, including mercury, are becoming more widespread. The aims of our study were to: (1) examine patterns in the total hair mercury level of human participants in several communities in the region and compare these results to the 2.2 µg/g total hair mercury level equivalent to the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee of Food Additives (JECFA)'s Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI); and (2), to measure the mercury levels of paco (Piaractus brachypomus) fish raised in local aquaculture ponds, in order to compare these levels to the EPA Fish Tissue Residue Criterion of 0.3 µg Hg/g fish (wet weight). We collected hair samples from 80 participants in four communities (one control and three where ASGM activities occurred) in the region, and collected 111 samples from fish raised in 24 local aquaculture farms. We then analyzed the samples for total mercury. Total mercury levels in hair were statistically significantly higher in the mining communities than in the control community, and increased with increasing geodesic distance from the Madre de Dios headwaters, did not differ by sex, and frequently exceeded the reference level. Regression analyses indicated that higher hair mercury levels were associated with residence in ASGM communities. The analysis of paco fish samples found no samples that exceeded the EPA tissue residue criterion. Collectively, these results align with other recent studies showing that ASGM activities are associated with elevated human mercury exposure. The fish farmed through the relatively new process of aquaculture in ASGM areas appeared to have little potential to contribute to human mercury exposure. More research is needed on human health risks associated with ASGM to discern occupational, residential, and nutritional exposure, especially through tracking temporal changes in mercury levels as fish ponds age, and assessing levels in different farmed fish species. Additionally, research is needed to definitively determine that elevated mercury levels in humans and fish result from the elemental mercury from mining, rather than from a different source, such as the mercury released from soil erosion during deforestation events from mining or other activities.
Project description:Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a significant contributor of mercury (Hg) contamination and deforestation across the globe. In the Colorado River watershed in Madre de Dios, Peru, mining and deforestation have increased exponentially since the 1980s, resulting in major socioeconomic shifts in the region and two national state of emergency (2016 and 2019) in response to concerns for wide-scale mercury poisoning by these activities. This research employed a watershed-scale soil particle detachment model and environmental field sampling to estimate the role of land cover change and soil erosion on river transport of Hg in a heavily ASGM-impacted watershed. The model estimated that observed decreases in forest cover increased soil mobilization by a factor of two in the Colorado River watershed during the 18 year period and by 4-fold in the Puquiri subwatershed (the area of most concentrated ASGM activity). If deforestation continues to increase at its current exponential rate through 2030, the annual mobilization of soil and Hg may increase by an additional 20-25% relative to 2014 levels. While, the estimated total mass of Hg transported by rivers is substantially less than the estimated tons of Hg used with ASGM in Peru, this research shows that deforestation associated with ASGM is an additional mechanism for mobilizing naturally occurring and anthropogenic Hg from terrestrial landscapes to aquatic environments in the region, potentially leading to bioaccumulation in fish and exposure to communities downstream.
Project description:Children living near artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) are at risk of exposure to mercury, a neurotoxicant. It is not certain whether such exposures are harming development, as they occur in underresourced contexts entwined with other stressors, such as malnutrition and enteric infection. This study sought to investigate the association between hair-mercury levels and visual-motor, cognitive, and physical development among children living near ASGM in the Peruvian Amazon. Total hair-mercury levels were measured in 164 children ages 5-12 living in Madre de Dios, Peru. Primary outcomes included Visual-Motor Integration assessed via the Beery-VMI Developmental Test, General Cognitive Ability assessed via the Batería-III Woodcock-Munoz (Spanish-language Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities), and Physical Health assessed via anthropometry/hemoglobin counts. Mean (SD) hair-mercury level was 2.06 (2.43) ?g/g. Fifty-four children (32.9%) had hair-mercury levels above the World Health Organization reference level of 2.0 ?g/g. After controlling for sex, child age, maternal education, and family socioeconomic status, each one unit increase in log hair-mercury level was associated with a 1.01 unit decrease in Visual-Motor Integration (95%CI: -2.06, 0.05, p = 0.061), a 2.59 unit decrease in General Cognitive Ability (95%CI: -4.52, -0.66, p = 0.012), and a 2.43 unit decrease in Physical Health (95%CI: -5.34, 0.49, p = 0.096). After adjustment for covariates, children with hair-mercury levels exceeding the World Health Organization reference level scored 4.68 IQ points lower in Cognitive Ability than their peers. Mercury exposures related to ASGM may be harming child development in the Peruvian Amazon. Children in this region may benefit from intervention to reach their full developmental potential.
Project description:Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in Madre de Dios, Peru, continues to expand rapidly, raising concerns about increases in loading of mercury (Hg) to the environment. We measured physicochemical parameters in water and sampled and analyzed sediments and fish from multiple sites along one ASGM-impacted river and two unimpacted rivers in the region to examine whether Hg concentrations were elevated and possibly related to ASGM activity. We also analyzed the 308 fish samples, representing 36 species, for stable isotopes (?15N and ?13C) to estimate their trophic position. Trophic position was positively correlated with the log-transformed Hg concentrations in fish among all sites. There was a lack of relationship between Hg concentrations in fish and either Hg concentrations in sediments or ASGM activity among sites, suggesting that fish Hg concentrations alone is not an ideal bioindicator of site-specific Hg contamination in the region. Fish Hg concentrations were not elevated in the ASGM-impacted river relative to the other two rivers; however, sediment Hg concentrations were highest in the ASGM-impacted river. Degraded habitat conditions and commensurate shifts in fish species and ecological processes may influence Hg bioaccumulation in the ASGM-impacted river. More research is needed on food web dynamics in the region to elucidate any effects caused by ASGM, especially through feeding relationships and food sources.
Project description:Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a primary contributor to global mercury and its rapid expansion raises concern for human exposure. Non-occupational exposure risks are presumed to be strongly tied to environmental contamination; however, the relationship between environmental and human mercury exposure, how exposure has changed over time, and risk factors beyond fish consumption are not well understood in ASGM settings. In Peruvian riverine communities (n = 12), where ASGM has increased 4-6 fold over the past decade, we provide a large-scale assessment of the connection between environmental and human mercury exposure by comparing total mercury contents in human hair (2-cm segment, n = 231) to locally caught fish tissue, analyzing temporal exposure in women of child bearing age (WCBA, 15-49 years, n = 46) over one year, and evaluating general mercury exposure risks including fish and non-fish dietary items through household surveys and linear mixed models. Calculations of an individual's oral reference dose using the total mercury content in locally-sourced fish underestimated the observed mercury exposure for individuals in many communities. This discrepancy was particularly evident in communities upstream of ASGM, where mercury levels in river fish, water, and sediment measurements from a previous study were low, yet hair mercury was chronically elevated. Hair from 86% of individuals and 77% of children exceeded a USEPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) provisional level (1.2 µg/g) that could result in child developmental impairment. Chronically elevated mercury exposure was observed in the temporal analysis in WCBA. If the most recent exposure exceeded the USEPA level, there was a 97% probability that the individual exceeded that level 8-10 months of the previous year. Frequent household consumption of some fruits (tomato, banana) and grains (quinoa) was significantly associated with 29-75% reductions in hair mercury. Collectively, these data demonstrate that communities located hundreds of kilometers from ASGM are vulnerable to chronically elevated mercury exposure. Furthermore, unexpected associations with fish mercury contents and non-fish dietary intake highlight the need for more in-depth analyses of exposure regimes to identify the most vulnerable populations and to establish potential interventions.
Project description:Previous research has found that women and children living in rural, interior communities in Suriname have high concentrations of mercury in hair. Freshwater fish from these areas also have high concentrations of mercury. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining operations in parts of the country use elemental mercury to extract gold from soils and sediments. Total mercury and methylmercury concentrations have been determined in hair and blood from pregnant women across the country. Pregnant women from interior communities have significantly higher concentrations of both total and methylmercury in hair (median total mercury in hair 3.64?µg/g) compared with pregnant women from two urban coastal cities, Paramaribo (0.63?µg/g) and Nickerie (0.74?µg/g). Total and methylmercury concentrations in blood and hair are highly correlated (r?=?0.986, r?=?0.974) with methylmercury making up 86% of the total in blood and 97% of the total in hair. Most women in the interior regions rely heavily on local fish as part of their regular diet, and many live outsides of areas with active ASGM operations. This study demonstrates that diet and fish consumption largely govern mercury exposures in pregnant women in Suriname.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Mercury (Hg) is used in gold mining to extract gold from ore by forming "amalgam"-a mixture composed of approximately equal parts mercury and gold. Approximately 15 million people, including approximately 3 million women and children, participate in artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in developing countries. Thirty-seven percent of global air emissions of Hg are produced by ASGM. The recently adopted Minamata Convention calls for nations to gather health data, train health-care workers, and raise awareness in regard to ASGM activity. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of our review was to evaluate the current literature regarding the health effects of Hg among those working and/or living in or near ASGM communities. METHODS: We searched PubMed, ScienceDirect, and Google Scholar for studies relating to health effects and biomarkers of Hg exposure in ASGM communities. Articles published from 1990 through December 2012 were evaluated for relevance. DISCUSSION: Studies reporting health assessments, kidney dysfunction, neurological disorders and symptoms, and immunotoxicity/autoimmune dysfunction in individuals living in or near an ASGM community were identified. More than 60 studies that measured biomarkers of Hg exposure in individuals living in or near ASGM communities were also identified. These studies, conducted in 19 different countries in South America, Asia, and Africa, demonstrated that hair and urine concentrations are well above World Health Organization health guidance values in ASGM communities. CONCLUSIONS: ASGM workers and their families are exposed to Hg vapor, and workers, workers' families, and residents of nearby and downstream communities are consuming fish heavily contaminated with methylmercury.
Project description:Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the main source of anthropogenic mercury emissions and contamination in Latin America. In the Brazilian northern Amazon, ASGM has contaminated the environment and people over the past century. The main contamination route is through fish consumption, which endangers the food security and livelihoods of traditional communities. Our study aims to assess the potential toxicological health risks caused by the consumption of Hg-contaminated fish across five regions in Amapá State. We sampled 428 fish from 18 sites across inland and coastal aquatic systems. We measured the total mercury content in fish samples, and the results were applied to a mercury exposure risk assessment targeting three distinct groups (adults, women of childbearing age, and children). Mercury contamination was found to exceed the World Health Organization's safe limit in 28.7% of all fish samples, with higher prevalence in inland zones. Moreover, the local preference for carnivorous fish species presents a serious health risk, particularly for communities near inland rivers in the region. This is the first study to provide clear recommendations for reducing the mercury exposure through fish consumption in Amapá State. It builds scientific evidence that helps decision-makers to implement effective policies for protecting the health of riverine communities.
Project description:Anemia has been widely studied in global health contexts because of severe nutritional deficiency, and more recently, inflammatory status, but chemical exposures are rarely considered. Until recently, "anemia" was used synonymously with "iron deficiency anemia (IDA)" in global health settings. However, only 50% of anemia cases worldwide are IDA. Environmental toxicology studies of anemia risk have generally focused on populations in developed countries, albeit with high exposure to environmental toxicants, such as lead or cadmium. In the developing world, toxicant exposures commonly coexist with other risk factors for anemia. In particular, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) communities are at risk for dietary methylmercury exposure through contaminated fish consumption, and for anemia due to food insecurity and infectious and chronic diseases. Here, we report analysis of total hair mercury content, hemoglobin, and serum micronutrient levels in children < 12 years of age (N = 83) near ASGM in the Peruvian Amazon. Forty-nine percent (N = 29/59) of those aged < 5 years were anemic (< 11 g/dL) and 52% (N = 12/23) of those aged 5-11 years (< 11.5 g/dL). Few children were stunted, wasted, or micronutrient deficient. Median total hair mercury was 1.18 ?g/g (range: 0.06-9.70 ?g/g). We found an inverse association between total mercury and hemoglobin (? = -0.12 g/dL, P = 0.06) that persisted (? = -0.14 g/dL, P = 0.04) after adjusting for age, sex, anthropometrics, and vitamin B12 in multivariate regression. This study provides preliminary evidence that methylmercury exposure is associated with anemia, which is especially relevant to children living near ASGM.
Project description:The reemergence of malaria in the last decade in Madre de Dios, southern Peruvian Amazon basin, was accompanied by ecological, political, and socioeconomic changes related to the proliferation of illegal gold mining. We conducted a secondary analysis of passive malaria surveillance data reported by the health networks in Madre de Dios between 2001 and 2012. We calculated the number of cases of malaria by year, geographic location, intensity of illegal mining activities, and proximity of health facilities to the Peru-Brazil Interoceanic Highway. During 2001-2012, 203,773 febrile cases were identified in Madre de Dios, of which 30,811 (15.1%) were confirmed cases of malaria; all but 10 cases were due to <i>Plasmodium vivax</i> Cases of malaria rose rapidly between 2004 and 2007, reached 4,469 cases in 2005, and then declined after 2010 to pre-2004 levels. Health facilities located in areas of intense illegal gold mining reported 30-fold more cases than those in non-mining areas (ratio = 31.54, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 19.28, 51.60). Finally, health facilities located > 1 km from the Interoceanic Highway reported significantly more cases than health facilities within this distance (ratio = 16.20, 95% CI = 8.25, 31.80). Transmission of malaria in Madre de Dios is unstable, geographically heterogeneous, and strongly associated with illegal gold mining. These findings highlight the importance of spatially oriented interventions to control malaria in Madre de Dios, as well as the need for research on malaria transmission in illegal gold mining camps.