Large-scale projects in the amazon and human exposure to mercury: The case-study of the TucuruI Dam
Abstract The TucuruI Dam is one of the largest dams ever built in the Amazon. The area is not highly influenced by gold mining as a source of mercury contamination. Still, we recently noted that one of the most consumed fishes ( Cichla sp.) is possibly contaminated with methylmercury. Therefore, this work evaluated the mercury content in the human population living near the TucuruI Dam. Strict exclusion/inclusion criteria were applied for the selection of participants avoiding those with altered hepatic and/or renal functions. Methylmercury and total mercury contents were analyzed in hair samples. The median level of total mercury in hair was above the safe limit (10μg/g) recommended by the World Health Organization, with values up to 75μg/g (about 90% as methylmercury). A large percentage of the participants (57% and 30%) showed high concentrations of total mercury (≥ 10μg/g and ≥ 20μg/g, respectively), with a median value of 12.0μg/g. These are among the highest concentrations ever detected in populations living near Amazonian dams. Interestingly, the concentrations are relatively higher than those currently shown for human populations highly influenced by gold mining areas. Although additional studies are needed to confirm the possible biomagnification and bioaccumulation of mercury by the dams in the Amazon, our data already support the importance of adequate impact studies and continuous monitoring. More than 400 hydropower dams are operational or under construction in the Amazon, and an additional 334 dams are presently planned/proposed. Continuous monitoring of the populations will assist in the development of prevention strategies and government actions to face the problem of the impacts caused by the dams. Highlights TucuruI is one of the largest dams in Amazon; 334 hydroelectric dams are planned. Our work shows that populations, upstream of the dam, are exposed to methylmercury. 56.8% of participants showed ≥ 10ppm of total mercury in hair (30% with ≥ 20ppm). An ecological study and a neurodevelopmental evaluation of children are recommended. Monitoring of population downstream and near the dam is essential to avoid exposure. Graphical abstract [DISPLAY OMISSION]
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