A population-based mercury exposure assessment near an artisanal and small-scale gold mining site in the Peruvian Amazon

Caren Weinhouse, John A. Gallis, Ernesto Ortiz, Axel J. Berky, Ana Maria Morales, Sarah E. Diringer, James Harrington, Paige Bullins, Laura Rogers, John Hare-Grogg, Heileen Hsu-Kim, William K. Pan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Human exposure to mercury is a leading public health problem. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is a major source of global mercury emissions. Although occupational mercury exposure to miners (via mercury vapor inhalation) is known, chronic mercury exposure to nearby residents that are not miners (via mercury-contaminated fish consumption) is poorly characterized. We conducted a population-based mercury exposure assessment in 23 communities (19 rural, 4 urban) around the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, which is bordered on the east by heavy ASGM activity. We measured total mercury in hair (N = 2083) and blood (N = 476) from March-June 2015 and performed follow-up measurements (N = 723 hair and N = 290 blood) from February-April 2016. Mercury exposure risk was highest in communities classified as indigenous, or native, regardless of proximity to mining activity. Residence in a native community (vs. non-native) was associated with mercury levels 1.9 times higher in hair (median native 3.5 ppm vs. median non-native 1.4 ppm total mercury) and 1.6 times higher in blood (median native 7.4 ng/mL vs median non-native 3.2 ng/mL total mercury). Unexpectedly, proximity to mining was not associated with exposure risk. These findings challenge common assumptions about mercury exposure patterns and emphasize the importance of population-representative studies to identify high risk sub-populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-136
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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