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Revista de Salud Pública

Print version ISSN 0124-0064


GASCA ALVAREZ, Adriana del Pilar. Environmental Exposure to Mercury in Gold Mining: Health Impact Assessment in Guainía, Colombia. Rev. salud pública [online]. 2000, vol.2, n.3, pp.233-250. ISSN 0124-0064.

Artisanal gold mining is an ancient practice that remains used in present times. Occupational exposure to mercury has been investigated in several studies, but effects related to its use in gold mining have been less addressed. Several studies are found in the literature, specially related to the gold rush in South America, and the impact of the practice along the Amazon rivers. Due to the informal characteristics of the practice, gold mining with mercury has not been well registered; thus, exposure assessment of riverine populations involved in this practice and its health effects (especially at the nervous system level) are of public health concern. An approximate health risk assessment is performed, using mercury concentrations in 65 blood samples taken from a riverine population in the Guainia region of Colombia. Concentration of mercury is used to estimate body burden of mercury and correlate it to percentage cases of paraesthesia in the population sample. An existing dose-response relationship from an Iraqi outbreak is taken here to extrapolate data previously analyzed in the literature. A 24.5% excess risk of paraesthesia among the miners and a 24.3% excess risk of paraesthesia in non-miners, (both attributable to methyl mercury exposure) is found among the study sample of the Guainia Region in Colombia. Although results are based in several assumptions and extrapolations from other studies, they reveal an important health impact of actual gold mining processes in this region of Colombia. Results here must drive the attention of public health practitioners to undergo further studies and promote remedial procedures and monitoring programmes, for the well being of the population and the improvement of the environment.

Keywords : Gold mining; risk assessment; environmental health.

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