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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348Print version ISSN 1020-4989


GONCALVES, Aguinaldo  and  GONCALVES, Neusa Nunes da Silva e. Human exposure to mercury in the Brazilian Amazon: a historical perspective. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2004, vol.16, n.6, pp.415-419. ISSN 1680-5348.

The objective of the present article was to present the most important data generated by a multicentric study carried out by Brazilian researchers who, with the support of national and international institutions, worked during the 1990s to describe human exposure to mercury in gold mining areas in the Brazilian Amazon. Three sets of procedures were followed with residents of the Tocantins and Xingu river basins: (1) clinical examination, based on a standardized protocol and performed by a single researcher, in order to identify five basic levels of contamination; (2) determination of mercury levels in blood, hair, and urine, using atomic absorption spectrophotometry (Xingu Project); and (3) investigation of genotoxicity by using four cytogenetic indicators. During the first stage, 41 individuals were studied. Mercury was found in miners and their family members. Contamination was significantly associated with occupation and showed a differential correlation with genotoxicity indicators. After that, the Xingu project, which encompassed 625 individuals, focused on 417 Kayapó natives from the Gorotire and Djudjetiktire villages; 142 miners; and 66 riverine individuals (ribeirinhos). The highest levels of methylmercury in hair and total mercury in blood and urine were found among the Indian population. Contamination with inorganic forms of mercury was also observed in the blood, hair, and urine of Indians. Following a specific recommendation from the World Health Organization, special attention was given to pregnant Gorotire and Djudjetiktire women, who, although not directly exposed to mercury vapors, showed considerable levels of mercury intoxication. Despite this worrisome scenario, a number of social achievements in the 1990s point to new standards of dignity in health care and of social ethics in Brazil that could benefit everyone, including the victims of environmental injury.

Keywords : Contaminação; grupo ancestral nativo do continente americano.

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