Mercury poisoning could potentially wipe out an isolated Amazonian tribe in Peru. Over 80 percent of the members of the Nahua tribe are currently sick with mercury poisoning, which is linked to anemia and kidney malfunction, and one child has reportedly died from the illness, according to tribal protection group Survival International (SI). Health experts say that Camisea Gas Project, the country’s largest gas field, is the source of the poisoning.
Little is known about the true impact of the illness on the community, given the lack of medical and research resources in the region. AIDESEP, the main indigenous organization in Peru’s Amazon, is working to convince the government to conduct regular health checks on Nahua tribe members, as well as other tribal populations in the Peruvian Amazon. SI reports that “the Peruvian Health and Environment Ministries have been aware of the problem [with mercury poisoning] since 2014.”
Related: Amazon pipeline spill leaks 3,000 barrels of oil into rivers that provide water to indigenous communities
Additionally, the advocacy community are still waiting for the results of a study conducted by the Ministry of Health in spring of 2015. The findings have not yet been published. Government failure to address the problem swiftly has led advocates like SI’s Director Stephen Corry to accuse Peru’s leadership of being “indifferent to the problems facing their indigenous communities.”
The likelihood that the mercury poisoning will be traced to the nearby gas and oil industry is not a leap of faith, since they have been rife with problems for years. Recently, a ruptured pipeline spilled some 3,000 barrels of oil into a river in Peru that supplies water to indigenous people. SI also reports that widespread illegal gold mining in the area could contribute to the mercury poisoning. Either way, it seems clear that human activity is most likely to blame for the illness that could kill off this group of indigenous people.
Images via Shutterstock and Survival International