Spatial Temporal and Dietary Variables Associated with Elevated Mercury Exposure in Peruvian Riverine Communities Upstream and Downstream of Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining

Publicado en International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, v. 14(12): 1582

Wyatt, L., Ortiz, E. J. , Feingold, B., Berky, A,, Diringer , S.

Año de publicación 2017

Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27710, USA
Global Health Institute, Duke University, Durham, NC 27710, USA ude.ekud@zitro.otsenre (E.J.O.)
University at Albany School of Public Health, State University of New York, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA
Pacific Institute, Oakland, CA 94612, USA
CENSAP, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios 17000, Peru
Dirección Regional de Salud de Madre de Dios, Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios 17000, Peru
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA



s research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R21ES026960), Duke University&rsquos DGHI-PRATT pilot, IAI LUCIA (CRN3034), the Hymowitz Fund, Bass Connections, and Duke&rsquos Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies. We thank Jessica Cain, Charlotte Lee, Laura Mistretta, Christina Chao, Dominic Lucero, Laura Rogers, Priyanka Krishnan, Josh Latner, Crissel Vargas, Reyna Gutierrez, Lorenza Andrade, Jovana Chuchullo, Yerko Rios and Cecilio Huamantupa for their assistance with field data collections as well as Jorge Luis Asencios (former DIRESA-MDD director) and Fernando Mendieta (Director Red Salvacion) for all the support. Additionally, we acknowledge Kaitlyn Porter and Laura Rogers for their assistance in analyzing hair and nail samples, and Joel Meyer for providing comments on early drafts.

Proyecto CRN3034


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&ndash6 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&ndash49 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&rsquos 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&ndash10 months of the previous year. Frequent household consumption of some fruits (tomato, banana) and grains (quinoa) was significantly associated with 29&ndash75% 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.