142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition

Annual Meeting Recordings are now available for purchase

Mercury exposure and health impacts among individuals in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining community: A comprehensive review

142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition (November 15 - November 19, 2014): http://www.apha.org/events-and-meetings/annual
Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keri Fulcher, MS , Tetra Tech Sciences, Arlington, VA
Herman Gibb, PhD, MPH , Tetra Tech Sciences, Arlington, VA
Background: Mercury is used in gold mining to extract gold from ore by forming “amalgam” – a mixture composed of approximately equal parts mercury and gold.  Approximately 15 million people, including approximately 3 million women and children, participate in artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in developing countries.  Thirty-seven percent of global air emissions of mercury are produced by ASGM.  The recently adopted Minamata Convention calls for nations to gather health data, train health-care workers, and do awareness-raising in regard to ASGM activity. 

Objectives: The purpose of this review is to evaluate the current literature regarding the health effects of mercury among those working and/or living in or near ASGM communities.  This review will also describe levels of mercury exposure among those working and/or living near ASGM communities.

Methods: PubMed, ScienceDirect and Google were searched for studies relating to health effects and biomarkers of mercury exposure in ASGM communities.  Articles published from 1990 through December 2012 were evaluated for relevance.

Discussion: Studies reporting health assessments, kidney dysfunction, neurologic disorders and symptoms, and immunotoxicity/autoimmune dysfunction in individuals living in or near an ASGM community were identified.  Over sixty studies that measured biomarkers of mercury exposure in individuals living in or near ASGM communities were also identified.  These studies, conducted in 19 different countries in South America, Asia, and Africa, demonstrated that hair and urine concentrations are well above WHO health guidance values. 

Conclusions:  ASGM workers and their families are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury vapor, and workers, workers’ families, and residents of nearby and downstream communities are consuming fish heavily contaminated with methylmercury.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the health impacts of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). Name the various biomarkers used to measure mercury concentrations in the human body. Explain the routes of exposure to mercury for individuals residing in ASGM areas. Describe the health effects experienced by individuals working in ASGM or residing in ASGM areas. Discuss the impact of ASGM on mercury emissions. Identify the regions and countries of the world where ASGM is prevalent.

Keyword(s): Environmental Health, Epidemiology

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral student at The George Washington University (GWU) School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington DC. I received my M.S. in Epidemiology from GWU in May 2012. I also work part-time as an Epidemiologist at Tetra Tech Sciences in Arlington, VA. I was heavily involved in performing the literature review, abstracting the data from the literature, and in the composition of the abstract and journal manuscript.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.