Environmental pollution of oil extractive industry and lead-based ammunition in indigenous territories of tropical rainforests and remote ecosystems (TROPOIL&LEAD)


Chemical pollutants are ubiquitous on Earth, although their distribution is uneven, partly due to the role of environmental processes on their long-range transport. It is generally considered that the sources and highest concentrations of pollutants are found in the industrialized or newly industrialized countries, and the widespread presence of pollutants in concentrations that pose a risk to humans and ecosystems in remote regions is close to negligible. In this project, this paradigm is revised by assessing the impact of oil extraction activities and lead-base ammunition in different remote areas of the world. In 2018, our research team documented several wildlife species ingesting soil and water in oil-polluted places from the Northern Peruvian Amazon. The ingestion of soil is an important route for contaminant exposure, posing a risk to the health of wildlife and humans that rely on subsistence hunting. We also reported high concentration of lead in wildlife, at lead levels comparable to values from industrialized areas.

Up to 11% of worlds rainforests overlap with conventional oil and natural gas reserves. Despite the world economic crisis, the growing global demand in oil increased from 85.3 to 95.0 million barrels per day from 2006 to 2015. In this context, the occurrence of petroleum-extraction activities in the Amazon and their impact on the environment and those indigenous populations that are heavily dependent on hunting for their subsistence has generated a great deal of controversy at the local and international level. A major cause for concern has been the reported high levels of lead in the blood of members of remote indigenous communities from the Peruvian Amazon that were initially associated with activities of the oil industry in the area. On a different vein, the most important source of direct lead release to soil at the global level is the use of lead-based ammunition, which in 2003 had a global consumption of 120,000 tons. However, oil and lead-related environmental health risks have traditionally been considered circumscribed in industrialized countries and their impact on the ecosystem in remote areas of the world is still unknown.

This study aims at providing new insights into chemical pollution in remote areas of the planet, and at establishing their potential sources.

This project pretends 1) to determine whether the geophagy behaviour directed to oil-polluted sites is a widespread behaviour in wildlife and domestic species in a range of very distinctive ecosystems with oil extraction activities: the Amazonian rainforests, the Siberian taiga, the Argentinian pampa and the South Apennines mixed forests, and 2) to determine the environmental health risk associated to lead-based ammunition in tropical rainforests of the world were local indigenous people rely on subsistence hunting: the Western and the Central Amazon, and the Central African rainforests.

If you are interested in conducting research on any of these topics for your Postdoc, PhD, Msc or intership, you are welcome to contact us anytime at . We would be happy to support you to apply to:

FI and FPU PhD grants

Margarita Salas and Beatriu de Pinós grants for Junior Postdocs (<2 years since PhD)

- María Zambrano international Postdoc grants (> 2 years since PhD)


Project dates

 January 2019 to September 2022


Convocatoria 2018 Proyectos I+D+I “RETOS INVESTIGACIÓN”

Research area


Team members

Research Professor
Guillermo Ros
Guillermo Ros
John Fa
John Fa
Joao Valsecchi
Joao Valsecchi
ICREA research professor
Research scientist
General lab manager and Research Technician
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