Fiocruz visited the Paiter-Suruí community for research on mercury contamination - Fiotec

Visita Povo Paiter Surui Projeto Ensp site

The Environment, Diversity and Health research group of the Sergio Arouca National School of Public Health (Ensp/Fiocruz) visited the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land, of the Paiter-Suruí people, in the state of Rondônia, between 29 April and 6 May. The team, coordinated by researcher Paulo Basta, carried out an important phase of the work that attempts to investigate the levels of mercury contamination in this indigenous population. The Sete de Setembro land is located in the basin of the Madeira river. The region has been targeted by miners who work illegally on gold mining.

Part of the Protection of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of Brazil Project, financed by the German government through the WWF network, the work has the goal of investigating the impact of mining activities on human health and on the environment. The territory and the population were chosen with the support of WWF and of the Kanindé Ethno-environmental Defense Association, another partner of the project, in addition to the local society itself. 

“Our team has built this agenda as a response to a demand of the indigenous peoples themselves, in a partnership with Kanindé, which has plenty of experience and a long history of interaction with the Paiter-Suruí population. This is a chance we have to identify health problems associated to the presence of illegal miners in that territory. Our work attempts to find evidence of damages to their health and to the environment, especially due to mercury contamination”, said Paulo Basta.

During a week of work in the Lapetanha village, located near Cacoal (RO), the multidisciplinary team made clinical evaluations, neurological clinical tests, and other tests with the children, in addition to a census to collect socioeconomic data. Another important step was collecting biological material from the participants for the possible detection of mercury and genetic alterations in enzymes that metabolize mercury and other heavy metals in the body. Hair samples will be examined by the Ensp/Fiocruz team themselves, who acquired a portable mercury analyzer with resources made available within the Indigenous Peoples Protection Project. Cell samples collected from the oral mucosa of the indigenous people will be analyzed at the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Laboratory (Lapesf) of the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), coordinated by geneticist Jamila Perini, a partner of this project. 

“We will be extracting DNA to evaluate possible genetic alterations, especially genetic polymorphisms which may be associated to mercury levels and to neurological effects”, explained Perini. The researcher also commented on how she felt when she participated in the field work with the Suruí people. “What I gained the most here was my experience with these people. It’s indescribable. And it’s an honor to be able to be a part of this team of extremely qualified and dedicated professionals. Each of them, in their own field of expertise, is contributing to the greater good”, she celebrated.

For the socioeconomic census, 176 inhabitants of 6 villages were interviewed: Lapetanha, Gamir, Riozinho, Pabekepi, Joaquim and Tikã. The team gathered information on household structure, income, education levels, and number of inhabitants per household, for instance. The researchers also gathered stories of health problems reported by the participants, focusing on nutrition, especially regarding fish consumption. “The locals asked us for nutritional guidance, because there are cases of overweight and obesity among them. They are very close to the town of Cacoal, which resulted in many changes in their eating habits. To respond to their request, we will be providing them with information on healthy eating and physical activity when we go back to present our results, the feedback on the research, before the year is over”, said Paulo Basta.

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Source: Fiocruz News Agency (AFN).