Fact Sheet: Mexico’s 500-year-old problem (Infographic)

Mexico 11

Over 70% of the population of Mexico—an estimated 80 million Mexican men, women, and children—have blood lead levels above the WHO standard.

The lead poisoning comes from their use of traditional Mexican pottery—the colorful plates, pots and other wares that you see in almost every home and restaurant in the country. Traditional Mexican pottery has been produced by local artisans over the past five centuries using leaded glazes, which were introduced by the Spaniards.

It is a national problem rooted in a 500-year-old tradition that has, so far, been hard to break.

Pure Earth/Blacksmith is currently in Mexico carrying out a major campaign (“Barro Aprobado“) to raise public awareness about the dangers of leaded pottery, and to promote the use and production of lead-free pottery.  The project is focused on Morelos state with plans to expand on its success nationwide.


  • Population of Mexico: 112 million
  • Population of Mexico with blood lead levels above WHO standard: 80 million (this includes artisans working with leaded glazes, communities living near leaded workshops, as well as the general public who use leaded traditional pottery at home and in restaurants)
  • Number of traditional leaded pottery workshops: an estimated 10,000 to 50,0000
  • Number of people working in these traditional workshops: an estimated 50,000 to 250,000, including children.
  • WHO blood lead level standard: 5 ug/dl
  • Average blood levels in the U.S.: 1.8 ug/dl
  • Average blood lead levels in Mexico City: about 8 ug/dl (traditional pottery is used less often in the wealthier city)
  • Average blood lead levels in Mexico: about 10 ug/dl
  • Average blood lead levels for children and their families who work in or live near traditional pottery workshops: 26 to 40 ug/dl
  • Amount of traditional pottery produced each month: 3,500 tons
  • Amount of lead oxide used in pottery each month: 350 tons
  • Amount of lead oxide in traditional leaded glaze (Greta): 85%
  • Number of lead-free pottery workshops: 100 (as of 2013)


Lead is a potent neurotoxin, causing lower intellectual capacity, neurological damage, and cardiovascular disease, amongst other problems.

Calculations show that the impact of lead poisoning in Mexico could be greater than any other environmental factor, including water sanitation and hygiene, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and injuries.


Lead-free glazes. In recent years, a lead-free glaze has been developed that works in existing kilns producing the same quality pottery. It is also half the cost of leaded glaze.


Breaking tradition and a lack of awareness. Artisans are reluctant to switch to the lead-free glaze partly because of tradition, and partly because of a lack of understanding about the problem and risks of leaded glazes. For consumers, there is no way to tell if the pottery they are using or buying is lead-free unless they do a lead test. There is no certification system for lead-free pottery or any labeling.  Currently, most traditional pottery produced and sold is made with leaded glaze.

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