Hair Mercury Level is Associated with Anemia and Micronutrient Status in Children Living Near Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining in the Peruvian Amazon

Published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, v. 97(6):1886-1897

Weinhouse, C., Ortiz, E.J., Berky, A.J., Bullins, P., Hare-Grogg, J., Rogers, L., Morales, A.M., Hsu-Kim, H. and Pan, W.K.

Publication year 2017
  • Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • Centro de Estudios, Investigación y Servicios en Salud Publica, Lima, Peru
  • Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.


IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3036


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, &ldquoanemia&rdquo was used synonymously with &ldquoiron deficiency anemia (IDA)&rdquo 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&ndash11 years (< 11.5 g/dL). Few children were stunted, wasted, or micronutrient deficient. Median total hair mercury was 1.18 &mug/g (range: 0.06&ndash9.70 &mug/g). We found an inverse association between total mercury and hemoglobin (&beta = &minus0.12 g/dL, P = 0.06) that persisted (&beta = &minus0.14 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.