Online Program

Elemental mercury exposure in men, women, and children from a Bolivian community engaged in artisanal gold mining

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jean Grassman, MS PHD CPH, Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, Brooklyn College/ CUNY School of Public Health, Brooklyn, NY, NY
Jack Caravanos, PhD, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Hunter College/CUNY School of Public Health, New York, NY
Glen Johnson, PhD, Health Sciences, Lehman College, Bronx, NY
Zhongqi Cheng, PhD, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
Lina Hernandez, MPH, Latin America, Blacksmith Institute, New York, NY
Yilmael Diaz, BS, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Hunter College/CUNY School of Public Health, New York, NY
Danielle Wagner, BS, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
Guido Condarco, MD, Fundacion PLAGBOL, La Paz, Bolivia
Artisanal gold mining is attractive to economically disadvantaged communities because it requires little capital investment and uses relatively simple equipment.  The prevailing method involves the addition of elemental mercury to pulverized rock to form a gold-mercury amalgam which is then further processed to remove the mercury.  Exposure to elemental mercury or its amalgam happens primarily by inhalation of the vapor and places workers at risk of adverse health effects, particularly to the central nervous system and kidneys.  The concentration of mercury from spot urine samples was used to assess individual exposure in men (n=89), women (n=24), and children (n=21) who reside and work in an area of Bolivia involved in artisanal gold mining. Participants also responded to questionnaires.  Results were categorized as ACCEPTABLE (less than 7 µg/L urine), CAUTION (7-25 µg/L urine), and HEALTH ALERT (> 25 µg/L urine).  While over half of the participants had acceptable levels of mercury exposure, 17% of the men (n=11/89), 25% of the women (n=6/24), and 25% of the children (n=5/21) were found to have levels placing them in the HEALTH ALERT range. 22% (14/63) of adults reporting occupational contact with mercury were in the HEALTH ALERT range compared with 13% (3/23) among those without such exposure.  We are currently engaged in analysis to determine the geospatial, environmental, and workplace factors associated with mercury exposure. These findings will be used to develop interventions in collaboration with the community, the mining cooperatives, and PLAGBOL, a Bolivian organization seeking to minimize exposures to environmental toxicants.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Occupational health and safety

Learning Objectives:
Explain how artisanal gold mining contributes to global mercury exposure. Describe the prevailing method that artisanal miners use to extract gold. Assess the potential for exposure to elemental mercury based on the specific mining activities. Explain the significance of the mercury hazard categories in terms of health risk. Compare the mercury exposure context for the different sectors of the community: men, women, and children. Identify interventions appropriate for the mercury exposure context faced by men, women, and children.

Keyword(s): Occupational Health and Safety, International Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: My occupational and environmental health focus is to incorporate biological monitoring results into efforts to identify and reduce exposure. I have 25 years of experience in designing, performing, and interpreting biological monitoring studies at NIH/NIEHS and in academic settings as PI or as co-PI.
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.