Use of the Ecosystem Approach to Population Health: The Case of Mercury Contamination in Aquatic Environments and Riparian Populations, Andean Amazon, Napo River Valley, Ecuador

By Webb, Jena | Canadian Journal of Public Health, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Use of the Ecosystem Approach to Population Health: The Case of Mercury Contamination in Aquatic Environments and Riparian Populations, Andean Amazon, Napo River Valley, Ecuador


Webb, Jena, Canadian Journal of Public Health


ABSTRACT

Background: Driven by accelerating transformation of land use in the Amazon, studies addressing the impacts of deforestation and mercury (Hg) leaching on the geophysical, biological, social, health, economic and political systems of Amazonian countries are crucial to evaluate the population health risks of these rapid changes.

Methods: We used an ecosystem approach, integrating Hg measurements with socio-cultural and politico-economic elements, to provide an integral analysis and comprehensive solutions.

Results: Our interdisciplinary research in the Ecuadorian Andean Amazon has shown thatcomestible fish and riparian communities which rely on fish as a major protein source have mercury levels that could potentially cause subtle but deleterious population health alterations. A parallel study identified deforestation and soil erosion as a significant source of mercury to the aquatic ecosystem.

Interpretation: The analysis of these results in conjunction with the prevailing socio-cultural and politico-economic context allowed us to identify economic trends, and especially petroleum exploitation, as pivotal in the deforestation/mercury-exposure dynamic. In collaboration with public health authorities, we shared our results with local health stakeholders, including public health care staff, federal government agencies, researchers and local communities, in such a way as to promote sustainable land use practices and the nutritional benefits offish eating while reducing toxic exposures.

MeSH terms: mercury; deforestation; Ecuador fisheries; neurotoxicity; human geography

RÉSUMÉ

Contexte : Dictées par Ia transformation de plus en plus rapide de l'utilisation des terres en Amazonie, des études relatives aux répercussions du déboisement et de la lixiviation du mercure (Hg) sur les systèmes géophysiques, biologiques, sociaux, sanitaires, économiques et politiques des pays de l'Amazonie jouent un rôle crucial dans l'évaluation des risques de tels changements pour la santé des populations.

Méthode : Nous avons suivi une démarche axée sur les écosystèmes consistant à intégrer les mesures de Hg à des éléments socio-culturels et politico-économiques, afin d'en arriver à une analyse intégrale et à des solutions globales.

Résultats : Ea recherche interdisciplinaire que nous avons menée dans la région de l'Amazonie andine de l'Equateur a montré que le poisson comestible, et les collectivités riveraines qui comptent sur le poisson comme principale source de protéines, présentent des concentrations de mercure qui pourraient causer des altérations subtiles mais nocives de la santé des populations. Une étude parallèle a déterminé que le déboisement et l'érosion du sol contribuaient de façon importante à la présence de mercure dans l'écosystème aquatique.

Interprétation : L'analyse de ces résultats, en fonction du contexte socio-culturel et politicoéconomique courant, nous a permis d'établir des tendances économiques, particulièrement dans le domaine de l'exploitation pétrolière, qui constituent l'essence de la dynamique déboisementexposition au mercure. En collaboration avec des responsables de la santé publique, nous avons présenté nos résultats à des intervenants des milieux locaux de la santé, y compris des membres du personnel préposé à la santé publique, des organismes fédéraux, des chercheurs et des collectivités locales, de façon à promouvoir des pratiques d'utilisation durable des terres et les avantages nutritifs de la consommation du poisson, tout en réduisant l'exposition aux substances toxiques.

A recently identified consequence of deforestation in the Amazon is the ixiviation of naturally occurring mercury contained in soils, thereby introducing this heavy metal into the aquatic ecosystem.1,2 Once in these environments, mercury is methylated to its organic form (methylmercury)3-5 and enters the food chain, biomagnifying in higher trophic levels. …

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Use of the Ecosystem Approach to Population Health: The Case of Mercury Contamination in Aquatic Environments and Riparian Populations, Andean Amazon, Napo River Valley, Ecuador
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