Report Finds Mercury Poisoning Among Remote Peruvian Tribe

A remote Amazonian tribe is suffering from widespread mercury poisoning, possibly from a natural gas extraction facility, with more than three-quarters of the tested population containing high levels of the toxic metal, according to an unpublished health report by the Peruvian government.

According to The Guardian, the affected tribe, the Nahua, reside in a remote reserve in the Peruvian Amazon created for indigenous people to live in “voluntary isolation.” Government health officials were first alerted to the Nahua’s mercury poisoning in 2014. They then collected more than 150 urine samples — representing 41 percent of the Nahua population — and found 78 percent had high levels of mercury. The contamination was equally severe among age groups and sexes.

The mercury poisoning was first discovered when a six-month-old baby boy was treated for severe anemia at a Lima clinic and was found to have high levels of mercury in his blood. The mother also was found to be suffering from “mercury intoxication.”

“The results are extremely concerning and mean serious risk for the people living in Santa Rosa,” said the resulting Health Ministry report.

Mercury can cause severe health issues at high levels of exposure, including muscle weakness, skin rashes, and cognitive issues, according to the World Health Organization. The unpublished report concluded that fish consumption was not the cause of the contamination. Rather, it said the likely main source was the Camisea Project, a large natural gas extraction facility in the Peruvian Amazon and recommended government officials “conduct serious, complete analyses of the mercury emissions” of the facility.

For more detail, visit The Guardian’s investigation into the report.