Mercury exposure in fishing communities of the Peruvian amazon
Mercury pollution from burgeoning artisanal small-scale gold mines in the Peruvian Amazon poses an imminent threat to human health. Global demand for gold has risen dramatically since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008, driving the proliferation of gold mines in Peru. The expansion of gold mining has been particularly fast in the Madre de Diós Department, a region spanning 85,300 km2 with a population of 110,000. Dangerously high levels of mercury have been detected in market fish in the region, and previous studies have established that the human population of Madre de Dios has been exposed to mercury.
In collaboration with Peru’s Ministry of Health, I conducted interviews and collected hair samples for methylmercury analysis from 170 women of childbearing age living in three urban communities in Madre de Dios, including the regional capital of Puerto Maldonado. I decided to focus on women of childbearing age becauses fetuses and young infants are the most susceptible to mercury poisoning. My results will be returned to the Ministry of Health and will be used to help inform a targeted educational campaign to prevent or reduce mercury exposure in pregnant women. In November I’m traveling back to Peru to present my preliminary results to government officials, researchers, and community members at a mercury forum to be held in Puerto Maldonado.