Mercury exposure assessment in indigenous communities from Tarapaca village, Cotuhe and Putumayo Rivers, Colombian Amazon

  • Maria Alcala-Orozco
  • Karina Caballero-Gallardo
  • Jesus Olivero-VerbelEmail author
Research Article


Mercury (Hg) is a complex and multifaceted global pollutant. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining activities are largely responsible for Hg contamination in developing countries, in many cases impacting areas of high biodiversity such as the Amazon. The aim of the study was to establish Hg exposure in indigenous citizens from the Tarapaca village, Cotuhe and Putumayo Rivers, at the Colombian Amazon. Total Hg (T-Hg) concentrations were measured employing a DMA-80 Hg analyzer. For that purpose, 190 hair samples were taken from volunteers living in different communities of Tarapaca. The overall mean T-Hg level for all samples was 10.6 ± 0.4 μg/g, with values ranging from 0.61 to 31.1 μg/g. The mean T-Hg level decreased in the order Puerto Huila > Puerto Ticuna > Ventura > Nueva Union > Buenos Aires > Santa Lucia > Puerto Nuevo > Caña Brava > Pupuña. Based on recommendations from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), 99.5% of the samples exceeded the maximum level of 1.0 μg/g. Hg content in human hair was significantly associated with fish consumption (ρ = 0.253; p < 0.001). According to the health survey, at least 24.7% of the volunteers manifested some signs and symptoms of Hg poisoning. In short, these data support the extensive Hg exposure in the environment of the Colombian Amazon, a process that could be impacting the quality of life of its vulnerable indigenous groups. Immediate actions must be taken by competent authorities to protect these communities from Hg poisoning.


Pollution Fish consumption Ethnic groups Health risk 



The authors thank the indigenous communities from the Colombian Amazon, as well as special thanks to Victor Moreno Rengifo and all the incredible and wonderful communities from the Amazon.

Funding information

National Natural Parks of Colombia. National Program for Doctoral Formation, COLCIENCIAS-UniCartagena, Grants 757-2016 and 567-2012, Vice-Presidency for Research, UniCartagena. Grants to Support Research Groups (2016-2018) and Grant 114/2018

Compliance with ethical standards

This research was approved by the Ethical Committee of the University of Cartagena (CE-9002070716), as part of the National Observatory for Mercury.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2019_6620_MOESM1_ESM.docx (925 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 456 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental and Computational Chemistry Group, School of Pharmaceutical SciencesZaragocilla Campus, University of CartagenaCartagenaColombia

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