, Volume 80, Issue 1-4, pp 109-121

Mercury contamination in the Brazilian Amazon. Environmental and occupational aspects

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Mercury (Hg) contamination of miners, riparian and Indian populations and fish in the Amazon region, due to gold extracting activities, has been studied. Samples of hair, urine, and blood of Indians and prospectors, and hair from riparian fish-eating population and fishes from Madeira river, respectively, were collected and analyzed by Cold Vapor, Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (CV-AAS) techniques. The results obtained showed that the aquatic food chains in the Amazonian ecosystems are contaminated by methylmercury (MeHg), exposing Indians, prospectors and riverines to thr risk of severe health hazard. The highest levels of contamination, based upon hair analysis, were found in riparian of the Madeira river, followed by Cuniã Lake population, Indians (Fresco river) and prospectors, in that order. Blood analysis showed 59% of the samples from Indians and 33% from prospectors with Hg contents above 10 ng mL−1. Analysis of urine, on the other hand, showed 44% of Indians with Hg levels below the detection limit (d.l.), and 30% above 20 ng mL−1, whereas 38% of the prospectors presented Hg concentrations over 20 ng mL−1, and 20% below the d.l. These results prove that prospectors, who hardly ever eat fish but are badly exposed to inorganic Hg vapor, are ocupationally contaminated, while the rest of the populations under survey are exposed to environmental contamination by Hg, through polluted fish ingestion.