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Environ Health Perspect. Jul 1999; 107(7): 587–591.
PMCID: PMC1566671
Research Article

Methylmercury neurotoxicity in Amazonian children downstream from gold mining.

Abstract

In widespread informal gold mining in the Amazon Basin, mercury is used to capture the gold particles as amalgam. Releases of mercury to the environment have resulted in the contamination of freshwater fish with methylmercury. In four comparable Amazonian communities, we examined 351 of 420 eligible children between 7 and 12 years of age. In three Tapajós villages with the highest exposures, more than 80% of 246 children had hair-mercury concentrations above 10 microg/g, a limit above which adverse effects on brain development are likely to occur. Neuropsychological tests of motor function, attention, and visuospatial performance showed decrements associated with the hair-mercury concentrations. Especially on the Santa Ana form board and the Stanford-Binet copying tests, similar associations were also apparent in the 105 children from the village with the lowest exposures, where all but two children had hair-mercury concentrations below 10 microg/g. Although average exposure levels may not have changed during recent years, prenatal exposure levels are unknown, and exact dose relationships cannot be generated from this cross-sectional study. However, the current mercury pollution seems sufficiently severe to cause adverse effects on brain development.

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Articles from Environmental Health Perspectives are provided here courtesy of National Institute of Environmental Health Science