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EcoHealth

, Volume 1, Supplement 2, pp SU59–SU71 | Cite as

Mercury in Fish-eating Communities of the Andean Amazon, Napo River Valley, Ecuador

  • Jena WebbEmail author
  • Nicolas Mainville
  • Donna Mergler
  • Marc Lucotte
  • Oscar Betancourt
  • Robert Davidson
  • Edwin Cueva
  • Edy Quizhpe
Original Contribution

Abstract

This exploratory study aimed to examine the relationship between fish eating habits, human mercury levels, and mercury levels in fish in three communities of the Napo River Valley, Ecuadorian Andean Amazon, a region without gold mining but with significant deforestation and volcanic soils with naturally high mercury levels. By recognizing the politicoeconomic factors which cause deforestation, the cultural factors which influence diet, and the biogeochemical factors which contribute to mercury levels, this study employs an ecosystem approach. Interviews on diet were conducted, hair samples from 99 individuals were collected, and samples of commonly eaten fish were taken. Samples were analyzed using cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry (CVAFS). Two rural communities were found to have higher fish consumption and hair mercury levels (8.71 μg/g and 5.32 μg/g) as compared to an urban community (1.87 μg/g). A sequential analysis of hair established mercury levels by month. No seasonal tendencies were noted. Piscivorous fish (0.36 μg/g) were found to be more contaminated in mercury than herbivorous fish (0.05 μg/g). The study shows that sociocultural factors are important in determining mercury exposure. The two village communities consume different species of fish with different frequencies, leading to differential exposure and mercury concentrations in hair samples. The levels of mercury in these two villages were similar to those found in Brazil where neurobehavioral tests showed a correlation between these relatively low levels of mercury and decreased psychomotor capacities. These findings are concerning and should be followed by further studies on the multiple factors that affect the health status of these exposed communities.

Keywords

fish mercury fish consumption mercury exposure hair mercury Andean Amazon Ecuador 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This study was supported by grants from the Inter American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) under the PESCA program (Program to Expand Scientific Capacities in the Americas), the Government of Québec (Office Québec-Amériques pour la Jeunesse [OQAJ] and Bureau de la Coopération Internationale [BCI]), a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant to Marc Lucotte, and Donna Mergler’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Academic Fellowship. We thank Isabelle Rheault of the Centre de Recherche en Géochimie et en Géodynamique (GEOTOP), Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) laboratory, for all her help with the lab analyses, and Bertrand Fournier of the Service de Consultation en Analyse de Données (SCAD), UQAM, for his help with the statistical analysis. This project was only possible as a result of the support that we received from our Ecuadorian collaborators. Each community welcomed us and helped us in their own way. We warmly thank Fredy, Maria, Ricardo, Walter, Silvario, and Jacinta Mamallacta-Yumbo for their hospitality. Other community members were also actively involved in the realization of this study. Thanks to Jaime, Maya, Jinson, José Vivánco, Rosa Adela Almeda Abarca, Evaristo Gindigua, Juan Vargas Cardova, Belisario Gualinga, Helio Ayala, Nelson Grefa, Luis Yauri Poma, Nixon Revelo, Efrain Cerda, and Janeth, Diego, Jairo, and Fransisco Bustos.

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Copyright information

© EcoHealth Journal Consortium 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jena Webb
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Nicolas Mainville
    • 1
  • Donna Mergler
    • 2
  • Marc Lucotte
    • 3
  • Oscar Betancourt
    • 4
  • Robert Davidson
    • 1
    • 5
  • Edwin Cueva
    • 4
  • Edy Quizhpe
    • 6
  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Sciences (ISE)University of Québec in Montréal (UQAM)MontrealCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Biology, Health, Society and Environment (CINBIOSE)UQAMMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Research on Geochemistry and Geodynamics (GEOTOP)UQAMMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Health, Environment,and Development Foundation (FUNSAD)QuitoEcuador
  5. 5.Biodôme of MontréalMontrealCanada
  6. 6.Manuel Amunarriz Epidemiology and Community Health InstituteCocaEcuador

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