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Schutzmeier, Paul; Berger, Ursula and Böse-O'Reilly, Stephan ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0204-3103 (2017): Gold Mining in Ecuador: A Cross-Sectional Assessment of Mercury in Urine and Medical Symptoms in Miners from Portovelo/Zaruma. In: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 14, No. 1, 34 [PDF, 2MB]

Abstract

Mercury is a toxic metal and is used in small scale gold mining. In Portovelo, Ecuador, mercury has been an environmental and health problem for decades. The target of this study was to assess the mercury concentration in the urine of miners from Portovelo/Zaruma to establish a prevalence of high values. Eight hundred and sixty-five (865) urine samples were collected and analysed for their mercury content, using cold vapor atom absorption spectroscopy. The prevalence of high mercury values (> 25 mu g/L) was estimated. Forty-four (44) miners with mercury levels > 15 mu g/L filled in a questionnaire for characteristics and possible confounders, and were examined for intoxication symptoms to establish the ten points medical score sum. The median urine value was 1.8 mu g/L;78.3% of miners were below 7 mu g/L and were not at risk of an intoxication, whereas 5.9% of miners exceeded the limit of 25 mu g/L and were probable to experience intoxication symptoms. The medical score sum had a range of 2 to 8 points with a median of 6. The low prevalence of high mercury concentrations shows that the politics and techniques to eliminate the use of mercury are being successfully implemented. Further studies are needed to identify factors enabling this process.

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