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Mercury exposure, risk factors, and perceptions among women of childbearing age in an artisanal gold mining region of the Peruvian Amazon

Gonzalez, David J.X., Arain, Aubrey, Fernandez, Luis E.
Environmental research 2019 v.179
breast feeding, data collection, fish, fish consumption, gold, mercury, mining, models, risk factors, risk perception, surveys, traditional technology, women, Amazonia, Peru
Recent studies from the Madre de Dios region of Peru report elevated mercury exposure among the general population. Our objective was to assess mercury exposure, risk factors, risk perceptions, and knowledge among women of childbearing age, a population of concern due to risks to infant and fetal health. We collected hair samples and administered a survey among 200 women aged 18–49 years residing in Madre de Dios. Hair total mercury (THg) concentrations were analyzed in accordance with EPA Method 7473. Associations between exposures and potential risk factors were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models. Geometric mean hair THg concentration (±standard deviation) for all participants was 1.62 ± 2.54 μg/g (range: 0.01–30.12 μg/g), and 67 participants (33.5%) had concentrations above the 2.2 μg/g reference dose established by the World Health Organization (WHO). Higher exposure was significantly associated with higher fish consumption (p = 0.03) and less mercury knowledge (p < 0.0001), but not with age or educational attainment. Most participants (86.2%) expressed concern about mercury contamination, but few (26.2%) had knowledge of the health risks associated with exposure. Many residents consumed fish species previously found to have low mercury concentrations, but more than 25% of participants reported consuming fish species with high mercury concentrations. We did not observe cross-sectional differences in fish intake among women who were pregnant or breastfeeding at the time of data collection.