While it make take years to study the impact of the Gulf oil spill, in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon, thousands of miles from the BP rig, oil spills have been a fact of life for more than 30 years.

In villages like San Cristobal, the indigenous Achuar people believe their maladies are caused by exposure to oil. They suffer fainting spells, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, headaches and skin infections.

According to locals, "There's a stream where we always go to fish, and it's always had oil on top. We catch fish there and eat them. We catch fish there and eat them. The fish drink the water, and since we eat them, the oil must get into us that way."

"This riverside village of open-air, wood-and-thatch homes is remote, and medical research is seldom carried out here. But government doctor Alan Castro thinks health problems in San Cristobal can almost all be explained by malnutrition.

"But a Peruvian government study published in 2006 found that most indigenous people along this river had unhealthy levels of lead in their blood and 95 percent exceeded the healthy limit for cadmium. Lead and cadmium are associated with oil spills.

"Whether the cause of these health problems is oil spills, other changes brought by outsiders, or a combination of the two, the Achuars' quality of life has worsened since oil companies arrived in the Amazon rain forest and little is being done to help them."

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