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Published 26 March 2016

A new study shows that water and food sources for 19 Indigenous communities have been massively affected by illegal mining.

Illegal mining companies in the Brazilian Amazon are poisoning local indigenous communities, with high quantities of mercury found in the water and food sources of over 19 Yanomami and Yekuana communities.

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After studying hair samples from Indigenous people in 19 different communities in one region of the Brazilian Amazon, researchers found that 90 percent of them had been severely affected by mercury poisoning.

The study was jointly conducted by the Brazilian health foundation Fiocruz, the Hutukara Yanomami Association, the Yekuana Association, and the Brazilian non-government organization Socio-Environmental Institute.

According to the study, the mercury comes from illegal gold mines operating in the region, which pollute rivers during the gold extraction process. This contaminates their main source of drinking water and the fish, which is a fundamental part of their diet.

Some of the most threatened communities include the uncontacted Yanomami people, who live in the northern Brazil and southern Venezuelan parts of the Amazon. According to the report, illegal miners are working extremely close to one of the areas where they live.

According to the World Wildlife Federation Brazil, illegal mining has been growing in the northern Amazon between Brazil's northeastern state of Amapa and French Guiana. These mines have intensified land use conflicts and polluted important water sources, and caused permanent damages to aquatic species, said WWF-Brazil.

The Yanomami communities have been threatened by these activities since the 1980's when there was a boom in illegal mining in the region. The gold miners effectively killed off a large portion of these local inhabitants by bringing malaria to the area, mercury poisoning and outright violence, according to reports by Forbes.

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