Remote Amazon Tribe Hit With Mercury Poisoning


By The Guardian

An indigenous people living in one of the remotest parts of the Peruvian Amazon has been struck by a mystery mercury epidemic, according to an unpublished Health Ministry report dated 2015 and 2017 seen by the Guardian.

The Nahua only entered into sustained contact with “outsiders” in the mid-1980s, which led to almost 50% of the population dying mainly from respiratory and infectious diseases. Today, numbering less than 500 people, the vast majority live in a village in the Kugapakori, Nahua, Nanti and Others Reserve established for indigenous peoples in “voluntary isolation” and “initial contact” in south-eastPeru.

The leaked report, titled Análisis de Situación de Salud del Pueblo Nahua de Santa Rosa de Serjali en la Reserva Territorial Kugapakori Nahua Nanti y Otros, states that government health authorities were first alerted to the mercury crisis among the Nahua when a six month old baby, initially diagnosed with pneumonia, and his mother were admitted to a private clinic in Lima in November 2014. The baby was found to have severe anaemia and his blood was tested for heavy metals, resulting in both him and his mother being diagnosed with “mercury intoxication.”

Between then and September 2015, a series of visits to the Nahua’s village, Santa Rosa de Serjali, were made by national and regional government health authorities. More than 150 urine samples – 41% of the Nahua population – were taken: 78% contained “high levels of mercury”, with “no significant differences” across age groups, women and men, or adults and children. The highest level (96.57 μg/L [micrograms per litre]) was recorded in a 14 year old girl, the second highest (80.38 μg/L) in a 27 year old man, and evidence was found for lactating mothers passing mercury to their babies.

According to the World Health Organisation, mercury is one of the world’s “top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern” and is a particular “threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.”

“The results are extremely concerning and mean serious risk for the people living in Santa Rosa,” states the Health Ministry report, a general survey of the Nahua’s health running to 171 pages.

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