Perception of Mercury Contamination By Brazilian Adolescents in a Gold Mining Community: An Ethnographic Approach


Novais, G., & Câmara, V. D. M. (2009). Perception of mercury contamination by Brazilian adolescents in a gold mining community: an ethnographic approach. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 14, 2015-2026.


This study used ethnographic methods to examine the perception of mercury contamination by adolescents in the mining community of Poconé, Mato Grosso, Brazil. In Phase I, 53 students aged 13 to 16 years in six schools presented theatrical sketches about community health risks to generate key terms for a pile sorting activity in Phase II. Mercury was reported by four of the 15 groups (26%). In Phase II, researchers conducted semi-structured interviews and pile sorts with 31 students to assess adolescent attitudes about mercury and to generate an ethnomedical model of mercury perception. The lack of consensus evident in the model reveals that while students view mercury as an overall threat, many of them do not understand how its presence can harm human health. Few adolescents felt confident about their knowledge (3%) or could accurately explain how it was used (9%), even though many of them had relatives working as miners (55%). Further analysis of pile sort data suggests that mercury may not belong in a “typical risks” domain. The authors argue that ethnographic methods are a useful tool for public health research, and hope that these findings can contribute to health education interventions in the field.

Keywords: Mercury; Contamination; Risk perception; Adolescents; Ethnographic method; Health education

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