Skip to content
Main menu hidden.
Published: 2012-11-21

Tracing high levels of lead in children of the Peruvian Amazonas

NEWS A detective work to trace the source of elevated blood levels of lead in children of the Peruvian Amazonas is the focus of the thesis that Cynthia Anticona is defending at Umeå University on November 30th.

Picture: Field work of sampling sediments from widely used spots for fishing. Cynthia Anticona (middle), assistant Caleb Chumpi (left) and engineer Rafael Tello.
In 2006, a Peruvian environmental agency reported elevated blood lead levels in indigenous children of the Corrientes river basin, the most productive area of oil extraction in the Peruvian Amazon. Three years later, Umeå University researchers (PhD student Cynthia Anticona and Associate Professors Miguel San Sebastián and Ingvar Bergdahl) initiated a collaborative project with the Regional Directorate of Health and the indigenous based-organization to elucidate the origin of the lead exposure.

Due to the large evidence of environmental pollution posed by oil activity, a first study (2009) aimed to compare lead levels in the population and environment of communities exposed and not exposed to oil activity.

Unexpectedly, no significant difference in the average blood lead levels (BLLs) between oil exposed and non-exposed communities was found and the assessment of water and soil showed lead concentrations far below the international standards. But the biggest surprise came after the second study (2010), when researchers found that some children of these communities played and chewed pieces of metal lead to construct fishing sinkers, and these practices significantly increased their risk to have elevated BLLs.

They also found that children who lived in communities near oil battery facilities had a significantly increased risk of having elevated BLLs. But the connection was not through contaminated natural media as the generalized speculations stated. Instead, the researchers found that the proximity of communities to oil battery installations facilitated the access to metal lead from cables and other industrial waste that people collected for recycling purposes.

These findings have raised awareness of a non-classical source of lead exposure and suggested control and prevention strategies to avoid the deleterious effects, specially, in the children’s neurological development.

Finally, the researchers have remarked that this evidence does not negate the documented pollution and health hazards posed by current oil activity in the Corrientes river basin, and urge actions from health authorities and other stakeholders to comprehensively address the environmental health situation.

Contact: Cynthia Anticona, +46-761105893, + 51 1-3652949, cynthiaanticona@hotmail.com.
Cynthia Anticona Huaynate, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, is publicly defending her thesis with the title. "Lead exposure in indigenous children of the Peruvian Amazon: Seeking the hidden source, venturing into participatory research."Faculty opponent: Mary Jean Brown, Ass. Professor, Harvard School of Public Health, USA.
Dissertation at 9 am, Friday, November 30th, in Major Groove, Building 6L, Norrland University Hospital (NUS), Umeå.

Read the entire thesis or abstract at: