Living in the Amazon’s Madre de Dios region of Peru has its perks when it comes to natural resources, but the introduction of mercury into this fragile ecosystem has transformed these natural resources into a major threat to indigenous people’s health.

Now studies led by Amazon Aid Foundation’s partners on the ground in Madre De Dios have shown that indigenous populations have significantly higher mercury levels in their bodies than people living in more urban settings.

People living in indigenous communities in the region tend to have five times the maximum acceptable levels of mercury and 2.3 times greater than those in non-indigenous communities. Even more unsettling is the fact that indigenous children have three times more mercury in their system than children from non-native communities.

So what’s causing this trend? Differences in diet. Indigenous people rely primarily on fish for their source of protein, while urban dwellers also incorporate alternate sources of protein such as beef and chicken into their diet. Scientists found that over 60% of fish species in this one region alone contain unacceptable levels of mercury caused by the gold mining industry. Mercury is used in the gold mining industry to bind together flecks of gold and then burned off allowing it to enter the environment. The remaining mercury is poured directly into the river where it makes its way through the food chain.

The Amazon Aid Foundation is working to raise awareness about the destructive nature of illicit and unregulated gold mining so that future generations will be less subjected to the dangers of mercury. Our work with the film Amazon Gold provides a full investigation into this often unseen world of the gold industry and the power it has over such an important ecosystem. There is currently a August 2014 deadline for illicit miners to either formalize their claims or leave.

To read more about the indigenous people affected by gold mining, visit: Phys.org