Human neurotoxicity of mercury in the Amazon: A scoping review with insights and critical considerations

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2021 Jan 15;208:111686. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.111686. Epub 2020 Dec 8.


Human exposure to mercury is a major public health concern, causing neurological outcomes such as motor and visual impairment and learning disabilities. Currently, human exposure in the Amazon is among the highest in the world. A recent systematic review (doi:10.1016/j.jtemb.2018.12.001), however, highlighted the lack of high-quality studies on mercury-associated neurotoxicity. There is, therefore, a need to improve research and much to still learn about how exposure correlates with disease. In this review, we discuss studies evaluating the associations between neurological disturbances and mercury body burden in Amazonian populations, to generate recommendations for future studies. A systematic search was performed during July 2020, in Pubmed/Medline, SCOPUS and SCIELO databases with the terms (mercury*) and (Amazon*). Four inclusion criteria were used: original article (1), with Amazonian populations (2), quantifying exposure (mercury levels) (3), and evaluating neurological outcomes (4). The extracted data included characteristics (as year or origin of authorship) and details of the research (as locations and type of participants or mercury levels and neurological assessments). Thirty-four studies, most concentrated within three main river basins (Tapajós, Tocantins, and Madeira) and related to environmental exposure, were found. Mercury body burden was two to ten times higher than recommended and main neurological findings were cognitive, vision, motor, somatosensory and emotional deficits. Important insights are described that support novel approaches to researching mercury exposure and intoxication, as well as prevention and intervention strategies. As a signatory country to the Minamata Convention, Brazil has the opportunity to play a central role in improving human health and leading the research on mercury intoxication.

Keywords: Brain; Children; Contamination; Methylmercury; Mining; Pollution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Burden
  • Brazil
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / epidemiology
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / etiology*
  • Mercury Poisoning, Nervous System / metabolism
  • Rivers / chemistry*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Mercury