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Western Amazon Under Threat From Oil Pollution: Study

Update Date: Jun 13, 2014 07:52 AM EDT

Western Amazon, an area of unparalleled biological and cultural diversity, may have been contaminated by widespread oil pollution over a 30-year period, according to a new study. 

Oil production in the Western Amazon started in the 1920s and peaked in the subsequent 50 years. However current growing global demand is stimulating a renewed growth in oil and gas extraction. 

The study is first of its kind in which researchers have compiled a database of chemical analyses taken from the western Amazon area, over the 1983 to 2013 period. 

Researchers added that the results need to be reinforced by further study, however they raise some significant concerns. 

"We looked at measurement in 18 wastewater dumping sites from 10 different Amazon tributaries. We were able to pull together records over a 30 year period, from 1983 to 2013, allowing us to measure variations in 9 different pollutants, such a lead, mercury and cadmium. We found that 68% of the samples were above the current permitted Peruvian limits for lead concentrations, and 20% of the samples above permitted cadmium levels," said researcher Raúl Yusta Garcia, describing the findings in the press release.

"We were also able to compare pollution upstream and downstream of some of the dumping sites. With some samples, we found chlorine levels averaged 11 times higher downstream of the wastewater dumping site than it had been upstream. Pollution from oil extraction declined from around 2008, but the danger is that increased demand causes increased pollution".

The findings of the study will presented at the Goldschmidt conference in Sacramento, California.

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