Residential mercury contamination in adobe brick homes in Huancavelica, Peru.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

This is the first study of adobe brick contamination anywhere in the world. Huancavelica, Peru is the site of historic cinnabar refining and one of the most mercury (Hg) contaminated urban areas in the world. Over 80% of homes in Huancavelica are constructed with adobe bricks made from Hg contaminated soil. In this study we measured total Hg concentrations in adobe brick, dirt floor, surface dust, and air samples from the interior of 60 adobe brick houses located in four neighborhoods. Concentrations of total Hg in adobe bricks, dirt floors, and surface dust ranged from 8.00 to 1070 µg/g, 3.06 to 926 µg/g, and 0.02 to 9.69 µg/wipe, respectively, with statistically significant differences between the four neighborhoods. Concentrations of Hg in adobe brick and dirt floor samples in Huancavelica were orders of magnitude higher than in Ayacucho, a non-mining town in Peru. A strong correlation exists between total Hg concentrations in adobe bricks and dirt floors which confirms that adobe bricks were being made on-site and not purchased from an off-site source. A strong correlation between surface dust and adobe bricks and dirt floors indicates that walls and floors serve as indoor sources of Hg contamination. Elemental Hg vapor concentrations were below detection (<0.5 µg/m(3)) in most homes; however in homes with detectable levels, concentrations up to 5.1 µg/m(3) were observed. No statistically significant differences in Hg vapor measurements were observed between neighborhoods. This study demonstrates that building materials used widely in developing communities, such as adobe bricks, may be a substantial source of residential Hg exposure in silver or gold refining communities where Hg is produced or used for amalgamation in artisanal gold production.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Hagan, N; Robins, N; Hsu-Kim, H; Halabi, S; Espinoza Gonzales, RD; Richter, DD; Vandenberg, J

Published Date

  • 2013

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 8 / 9

Start / End Page

  • e75179 -

PubMed ID

  • 24040399

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC3769258

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1932-6203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pone.0075179


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States