Villagers Exposed to Mercury in a Small-Scale
Artisanal Gold Mining Area in Indonesia
Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, Rudolf Schierl, Dennis Nowak, Uwe Siebert, Jossep Frederick William, Fradico Teorgi Owi, Yuyun Ismawati Ir
Cisitu is a small-scale gold mining village in Indonesia. Mercury (Hg) is used to extract gold from ore, heavily polluting air, soil, fish and rice paddy fields with Hg. Rice in Cisitu is burdened with mercury. The main staple food of the inhabitants of Cisitu is this polluted rice. Villagers were concerned that the severe diseases they observed in the community might be related to their mining activities, including high mercury exposure. Case report of the medical examinations and the mercury levels in urine and hair of 18 people with neurological symptoms. Typical signs and symptoms of chronic mercury intoxication were found (excessive salivation, sleep disturbances, tremor, ataxia, dysdiadochokinesia, pathological coordination tests, gray to bluish discoloration of the oral cavity and proteinuria). Mercury levels in urine were increased in eight patients (>7 µg Hg/L urine). All 18 people had increased hair levels (>1 µg Hg/g hair). 15 patients exhibited several, and sometimes numerous, symptoms in addition to having moderately to highly elevated levels of mercury in their specimens. These patients were classified as intoxicated. The situation in Cisitu is special, with rice paddy fields being irrigated with mercury-contaminated water and villagers consuming only local food, especially mercury-contaminated rice. Severe neurological symptoms and increased levels of mercury in urine and hair support are possibly caused by exposure to inorganic mercury in air, and the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish and rice. The mercury exposure needs to be reduced and treatment provided. Further research is needed to test the hypothesis that mercury-contaminated rice from small-scale gold mining areas might cause mercury intoxication.
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