Mercury Exposure through Fish Consumption in Traditional Communities in the Brazilian Northern Amazon

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 22;17(15):5269. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17155269.


Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the main source of anthropogenic mercury emissions and contamination in Latin America. In the Brazilian northern Amazon, ASGM has contaminated the environment and people over the past century. The main contamination route is through fish consumption, which endangers the food security and livelihoods of traditional communities. Our study aims to assess the potential toxicological health risks caused by the consumption of Hg-contaminated fish across five regions in Amapá State. We sampled 428 fish from 18 sites across inland and coastal aquatic systems. We measured the total mercury content in fish samples, and the results were applied to a mercury exposure risk assessment targeting three distinct groups (adults, women of childbearing age, and children). Mercury contamination was found to exceed the World Health Organization's safe limit in 28.7% of all fish samples, with higher prevalence in inland zones. Moreover, the local preference for carnivorous fish species presents a serious health risk, particularly for communities near inland rivers in the region. This is the first study to provide clear recommendations for reducing the mercury exposure through fish consumption in Amapá State. It builds scientific evidence that helps decision-makers to implement effective policies for protecting the health of riverine communities.

Keywords: Amazon; health risk assessment; mercury contamination; protected areas; traditional communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brazil
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Fishes*
  • Gold
  • Humans
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mining
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Gold
  • Mercury