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Member Research and Reports

Florida International: Partners with Colombian Universities to Evaluate River Contamination

One of the largest rivers in Latin America, the Atrato River in Colombia has been tainted by decades of illegal mining, leading to mercury contamination and other pollutants.

Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, in collaboration with Universidad de Córdoba and Universidad Tecnologica del Choco Diego Luis Cordoba, both in Colombia, has been awarded a $3 million grant to evaluate the degree of contamination throughout the river basin and how it is impacting the health of local populations.

The FIU portion of the project will be led by Dr. Carlos Espinal, director of the Global Health Consortium; Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College; and Dr. Piero R. Gardinali, marine environmental toxicologist and professor in the College of Arts, Science and Education.

“The people who live in the Atrato River Basin have been exposed to decades of mercury contamination in their daily lives, and the effects will be felt for generations to come,” said Dr. Guilarte. “Our hope is that by understanding the levels of contamination and where it exists, we can be part of the solution and alleviate some of the damage that has been caused.”

The project is being funded by COLCIENCIAS, Colombia’s administrative department of science, technology and innovation, the government agency supports fundamental and applied research in the country. The goal of the project is to evaluate the health conditions of the population that lives in the Atrato River Basin and their relative exposure to environmental contaminants resulting from both legal and illegal gold mining.

The project will include surveying more than 6,000 local inhabitants of the area, testing their hair, blood and urine. The project will also test local water, sediments, plants and food sources such as fish.

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