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Arch Environ Health. 2004 Aug;59(8):400-9.

Environmental exposure and fingernail analysis of arsenic and mercury in children and adults in a Nicaraguan gold mining community.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.


Gold mining can release contaminants, including mercury, into the environment, and may increase exposure to naturally occurring elements such as arsenic. The authors investigated environmental and human tissue concentrations of arsenic and mercury in the gold mining town of Siuna, Nicaragua. The study involved 49 randomly selected households in Siuna, from whom a questionnaire along with environmental and fingernail samples were collected. Environmental samples indicated that mercury concentrations in drinking water, although generally low, were higher near the mine site. Arsenic concentrations were elevated in water and soil samples, but their distribution was unrelated to the mining site. Mercury concentrations in fingernail samples were correlated with residential proximity to the mine, drinking water concentrations, occupation, and, among children, with soil concentrations. Fingernail arsenic concentrations correlated with drinking water concentrations among adults who consumed higher levels, and with soil concentrations among children. Fingernail analysis helped to identify differential exposure pathways in children and adults. Mercury and arsenic uptake via soil exposure in children warrants further consideration.

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