Background Mining activities have environmental impacts due to sediment movement and contamination of areas, and also pose risks to people's food security. In Brazil, the major part of coal mining activities is done in the southern region, in the Santa Catarina Carboniferous region. In this region, former mined areas contaminated with heavy metals frequently occur nearby inhabited zones. Heavy metals are contaminants that does not have odor, color, or taste, and are therefore difficult to detect. We aimed to verify whether people use plants from contaminated mined areas, and to understand which factors influence plant use.
Methods We did semi-structured interviews with residents from 14 areas nearby abandoned mines in the main municipalities of the Santa Catarina Carboniferous region.
Results Out of the 196 interviewed residents, 127 (65%) reported collecting plants for medicinal and food use, directly from contaminated mined areas. Long-term residents, as well as those who noticed more environmental changes (positive and negative), cited more plants used, and had more detailed knowledge of plant use in their communities. When asked if they were aware of the possible contamination of mined areas, 85% said they knew about it. However, only 10% associated negative health effects with the use of plant species collected in contaminated mined areas.
Conclusions Our study demonstrates that people living nearby contaminated areas use and consume plants, and also evidences a lack of information about contamination and a lack of participatory actions that include local communities in contaminated area restoration strategies. This situation poses a risk to the food security of the people living nearby former coal mined areas.