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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

Print version ISSN 1020-4989

Abstract

PEPLOW, Daniel  and  AUGUSTINE, Sarah. Community-directed risk assessment of mercury exposure from gold mining in Suriname. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2007, vol.22, n.3, pp. 202-210. ISSN 1020-4989.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1020-49892007000800007.

OBJECTIVES: The overarching objective of this project was to support the indigenous people in Kwakoegron, Suriname, in self-diagnosis of public and environmental health problems. The specific objectives, defined by the people of Kwakoegron were: (1) to determine for themselves if they are at risk of exposure to mercury (Hg) contamination, (2) to measure the extent of the Hg contamination problem, and (3) to initiate an intervention plan. METHODS: Field work was conducted from June 2005 to April 2006. Community members were trained to collect hair samples for analysis using methods designed to maximize sample quality and consistency and minimize cross-contamination. Each hair sample, of approximately 20 mg, was weighed, added to the sample boat, and analyzed immediately without preservation or storage. Technicians educated in analytical chemistry and trained in the operation of the portable Lumex Zeeman Hg analyzer measured the total Hg (THg) for each hair sample. Confidential meetings were held with each person sampled and any questions were answered. Afterwards, a community meeting was held to reflect on the process, outcome, and future needs. RESULTS: Hair samples from 16 of the 22 participants had Hg levels of 2.2-20.2 µg/g THg, exceeding normal THg levels for hair (2 µg/g THg). During the confidential, individual meetings and the followup community meeting, information was shared regarding the Hg levels found, what the numbers meant scientifically, what the potential health effects could be, and how exposure levels might be brought down. At the conclusion of the followup meeting, the Kwakoegron community proposed an intervention plan that had three principle parts: (1) routine analysis of Hg exposure to monitor trends and track the effects of exposure-reduction efforts; (2) routine health assessments to determine the effects of Hg exposure, particularly in children less than 5 years of age; and (3) fish advisories based on fish biology and trophic level or on the specific measurement of Hg levels in various fish species from various locations and different times throughout the year. CONCLUSIONS: This project showed that a democratic approach to science does not automatically compromise the orderly search for answers. Specifically, our experience in Kwakoegron suggests that the collaborative relationship that emerges by empowering an indigenous community to initiate its own research projects, and address the needs it identifies, can contribute positively to the risk assessment process. This project showed that when Kwakoegron was acknowledged as an equal partner, the risk assessment process led to an open exchange of information and an intervention plan that was both pragmatic and acceptable in the context of the community’s unique social and cultural needs.

Keywords : Mercury; risk assessment; consumer participation; Suriname.

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