LIMA, Peru (AP) — A study of mercury contamination in a southeastern Peruvian jungle region ravaged by illegal gold mining has found unsafe levels of the toxic metal in 78 percent of adults in the regional capital and in 60 percent of fish sold at markets.
The study by the Carnegie Institution for Science calls the contamination a "grave and mounting public health threat."
Mercury is a byproduct of the artisanal gold mining practiced by an estimated 40,000 miners in the Madre de Dios region.
The newly released study also says the population segment most vulnerable to mercury poisoning had the highest average mercury levels: women of childbearing age. As a neurotoxin, mercury can cause severe, permanent brain damage to an unborn child.