Human exposure and risk assessment associated with mercury pollution in the Caqueta River, Colombian Amazon

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2016 Oct;23(20):20761-20771. doi: 10.1007/s11356-016-7255-3. Epub 2016 Jul 30.


Mercury (Hg) is a global contaminant posing severe risks to human health worldwide. The aim of this study was to assess the levels of total Hg (T-Hg) in human hair and fish in the Caqueta River, at the Colombian Amazon, as well as to determine fish consumption-based risks for T-Hg ingestion. T-Hg levels were measured using a direct mercury analyzer. The overall mean T-Hg level in hair for humans in the Caqueta River sample (n = 200) was 17.29 ± 0.61 μg/g (1.2 to 47.0 μg/g). Ninety-four percent of the individuals had hair T-Hg concentrations greater than the WHO threshold level (5 μg/g), and 79 % displayed levels higher than 10 μg/g. Average Hg concentrations in fish varied between 0.10-0.15 μg/g and 0.10-1.60 μg/g, for noncarnivorous and carnivorous species, respectively. Based on the maximum allowable fish consumption rate for adults, most carnivorous species should be avoided in the diet, as their target hazard quotient ranged from 2.96 up to 31.05, representing a risk for Hg-related health problems. In the light of existing evidence for elevated Hg levels in the indigenous population of the Colombian Amazon, carnivorous fish should be restricted as part of the diet, and breastfeeding should be reduced to protect children health. Most importantly, gold mining activities directly on rivers demand immediate attention from the national government to avoid extensive damage on the environment and human health.

Keywords: Bioaccumulation; Breastfeeding; Human health; Pollution; Toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Colombia
  • Diet
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Fishes / metabolism
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Gold
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mining
  • Risk Assessment
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Gold
  • Mercury