Evaluating the impact of mercury contamination on human and environmental welfare in the Madre de Dios / Beni Watersheds in Peru and Bolivia
The long-term goal of this project is to quantify and evaluate the impact of methyl mercury exposures on human and environmental welfare in the Madre de Dios (MDD) / Beni watershed of the lower Amazon Basin located in the regions of MDD (Peru) and Pando (Bolivia). The project offers a unique opportunity for Duke faculty and students to engage in a research study with geo-political, economic, human health and environmental implications through government and non-government partnerships we have fostered. The MDD/Pando region is facing major emerging environmental and health threats due to rapid increases in artisanal gold mining, road development, and agricultural expansion. The region is the among the most economically disadvantaged in Latin America, though in the last few years it has seen much immigration as people are lured by the economic promise of participating in gold mining and processing, an illegal but rapidly growing sector of the economy. Artisanal mining has a potentially devastating impact on human and environmental welfare due to the use of mercury in the amalgamation of gold. To date, no research has delineated the extent of mercury contamination in the MDD/Beni watershed, nor the impact on fishing as an economic livelihood or on the overall health of indigenous and non-indigenous populations in the region.
We aim to fill this gap by implementing three objectives: (1) measuring mercury accumulation in river sediment and fish; (2) evaluating the impact of human mercury exposure; and (3) developing sediment transport models to identify where conservation efforts can be focused.