Ressources, flux, territoires : une géographie insoupçonnée du mercure le long du Río Beni (Bolivie)

Celine Tschirhart

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Our human society is at present becoming increasingly concerned with issues of pollution and with the impact of this pollution on environment and human health. Among those health- endangering substances are heavy metals, including mercury. The latter, which is notably present in the Amazon environment, accumulates in the aquatic food chain and becomes a hazard to people whose staple diet is fish. In the Bolivian Amazon the populations of fifteen villages on the Río Beni riverbanks are thus exposed to it. However, as significant differences in contamination levels can be observed from one village to the next, the factors causing these discrepancies along the river need to be studied more carefully.
This study shows that contamination differences vary with differences in resource management (such as farming, fishing, hunting, fruit gathering, logging, employment work, trading,...) which result from a socio-spatial system, which is examined on different scales. The pathogenic system of mercury contamination along the Río Beni includes the geographical situation, the types of community organization, the history of these villages, the types of resource management, the social links with external actors, the coherence of the territories in which these villages are located. Consequently, mercury contamination is not inevitable.
This geographical approach helps to identify unsuspected factors of mercury contamination that can serve to lay the foundations for planning and development policies along the Río Beni. With adjustments made to the context and with the capital condition that the research work is resolutely interdisciplinary, a geographical approach of long-term exposure to low doses of pollutants could shed a new light on complex systems leading to the contrasted exposure of populations.
Original languageFrench
Awarding Institution
  • Université de Strasbourg
  • Handschumacher, Pascal, Supervisor, External person
  • Piermay, Jean-Luc, Supervisor, External person
  • Blanc, Maurice, Advisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date25 Oct 2010
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • exposition, contamination, mercury, resource management, networks, territories, Amazon, Bolivia, Río Beni, Rurrenabaque

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