Population-based dietary exposure to mercury through fish consumption in the Southern Peruvian Amazon.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Mercury exposure related to artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) has raised environmental and public health concerns globally. Exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in fish, is especially of concern to women of childbearing age (WCBA) and children in high-fish consuming populations. In Madre de Dios (MDD), Peru, an Amazon region with naturally occurring mercury and high ASGM activity, there is significant exposure concern among the mainly riverine, fish-consuming communities. The objective of this study was to conduct the first assessment of mercury exposure in a population-based sample of MDD, identify factors associated with elevated levels and compare the relationship between fish consumption and hair total mercury (H-THg) among persons living in ASGM affected and non-ASGM affected watersheds.


Hair samples and household demographic surveys, including a module on fish consumption, were collected from 723 participants across 46 communities within 10 km of the Interoceanic Highway in MDD, who were previously enrolled in the first population-based study in MDD spanning areas affected and unaffected by ASGM. H-THg concentration (natural log transformed) was evaluated for association with independent demographic variables through multilevel multivariate regression models accounting for clustering among households and communities. Samples from canned fish available at local stores were also tested for total mercury.


Fish consumption (diversity and total consumed) varied spatially along the highway. 269 participants (37.2%) had elevated H-THg (>2.2 μg/g; median 1.60 μg/g; mean 2.24 μg/g), including 42.7% of WCBA and 20.0% of children under 5. Overall, H-THg was higher among people living in ASGM-affected areas. H-THg concentrations were strongly associated with fish consumption; however, in the multivariate models, household consumption of high trophic level fish was associated with elevated H-THg only in communities located in the ASGM-impacted watersheds. Similarly, the relationship between living in a household engaged in economic activities of fishing or Brazil nut harvesting was associated with higher H-THg, but only among households in the ASGM-affected area. In the non-ASGM affected areas, we observed a positive relationship between household daily fruit consumption and H-THg that was not observed in ASGM-affected areas.


Diet, residential location, and occupation are strong predictors of mercury exposure in Madre de Dios, Peru. Canned fish may represent a previously overlooked source of dietary Hg exposure in the region. In accordance with the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the significant environmental health concern of mercury exposure in ASGM areas demands policy and programmatic attention.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Feingold, BJ; Berky, A; Hsu-Kim, H; Rojas Jurado, E; Pan, WK

Published Date

  • April 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 183 /

Start / End Page

  • 108720 -

PubMed ID

  • 31627842

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8299663

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-0953

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0013-9351

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108720


  • eng