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Mercury Poisoning in the Nahua Nanti Kugapakori Territorial Reserve, Peru

Almost 80% of indigenous Nahua Nanti are contaminated with mercury and numerous organisations have repeatedly requested the government to take action with little success.


In the past, looging and oil exploration led to violent and disastrous contact with isolated Indians. In the early 1980s, exploration by Shell led to contact with the isolated Nahua tribe. Within a few years around 50% of the Nahua had died.This was in connection with the Camisea gas exploitation.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Mercury Poisoning in the Nahua Nanti Kugapakori Territorial Reserve, Peru
State or province:Ucayali
Location of conflict:Santa Rosa de Serjali, Sepahua district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project details

According to WHO, health effects of mercury exposure encompasses harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested. Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction. Mild, subclinical signs of central nervous system toxicity can be seen in workers exposed to an elemental mercury level in the air of 20 μg/m3 or more for several years. Kidney effects have been reported, ranging from increased protein in the urine to kidney failure. [8]

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:400
Start of the conflict:2014
Company names or state enterprises:Pluspetrol from Argentina
Relevant government actors:Centro de Salud Ocupacional y Ambiental (CENSOPAS), Ministerio de Salud (MINSA), Ministerio de Cultura (MINCUL), Nacional de Sanidad Pesquera (SANIPES), la Dirección General de Salud Ambiental (DIGESA) y el Gobierno Regional de Ucayali, Centro Nacional de Epidemiología, Prevención y Control de Enfermedades (Ministerio de Salud), Ministerio de Cultura,
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Coordinadora de Pueblos Indígenas de Atalaya (CORPIAA), Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP), Acción Ecológica
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Local communities mobilising scientists (AMS)
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Other Health impacts1) Accute poisonings 2) High levels of anemia in children (almost 50% of children) Haemoglobin on average 10.1 g/dl when the ideal is 12 g/dl. Mercury poisoning is linked with some diseases such as diarrhoea, skin problems, some types of cancer and malformation in newborns.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the fact that the problem has gain visibility and the government of Peru has declared it as a sanitary emergency, indigenous Nahua Nanti remain without answers of what is slowly killing them.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Centro Nacional de Epidemiología, Prevención y Control de Enfermedades (2017) Análisis de Situación de Salud del pueblo Nahua de Santa Rosa de Serjali en la Reserva Territorial Kugapakori Nahua Nanti y Otros
[click to view]

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[14] Interpreting Hair Mercury Levels in Individual Patients
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[13] Demographic and health attributes of the Nahua, initial contact population of the Peruvian Amazon
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[3] Ucayali: claves para entender la lucha de los nahua contra la contaminación de mercurio
[click to view]

[4] Acorralados por mafias y enfermedades: la situación de los pueblos en aislamiento y contacto inicial
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[5] Indígenas en contacto inicial Nahua sufren por contaminación de mercurio
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[6] Los alarmantes niveles de mercurio en Madre de Dios | Perú
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[7] Remote Amazon tribe hit by mercury crisis, leaked report says
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[8] Mercury and health- WHO
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[9]Mercury poisoning chief among health problems facing Peru’s uncontacted tribes
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[12] Four regions in Peru exposed to mercury contamination
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[13]Realizarán estudio pionero para conocer origen de mercurio en indígenas de Amazonía peruana
[click to view]

[15] Pioneer gas project in Latin America fails indigenous peoples
[click to view]

[16] Leaked map reveals chronic mercury epidemic in Peru
[click to view]

[10] Decreto Supremo que declara en Emergencia Sanitaria por el plazo de noventa (90) días calendario, a la Comunidad Nativa Nahua de Santa Rosa de Serjali, distrito de Sepahua, provincia de Atalaya en el departamento de Ucayali
[click to view]

[11] Acorralados por mafias y enfermedades: la situación de los pueblos en aislamiento y contacto inicial
[click to view]

Other comments:As written by David Hill for The Guardian “Every year a group of experts called the South Peru Panel issues a report on the country’s largest ever energy development which extracts natural gas and natural gas liquids from the Amazon and pipes them all the way across the Andes to Peru’s Pacific coast. The conclusions of its latest report? “Very positive macroeconomic benefits” and “without precedent in Peru’s modern economic history”, but pathetic, if not disastrous, for the indigenous people living near where the gas is extracted” [15]
Meta information
Contributor:Grettel Navas, ENVJustice Project.
Last update21/06/2020
Conflict ID:4221
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