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February 26, 2018


(Read the story in Spanish on the Barro Aprobado site)

Recently, a team representing a group of ten artisans from Michoacán in Mexico traveled to New York to show their lead-free pottery at NY Now, one of the largest trades shows in the country. This is where buyers come to scout for products that fill store shelves nationwide.

Some of the potters from Michoacán, Mexico

“We’re trying to expand the market for lead-free pottery produced by the artisans,” said Yanin Rodríguez of Retdes, a small, Mexican nonprofit working with the potters.

That is one goal both Retdes and Pure Earth’s Barro Aprobado program share. To promote lead-free pottery and create a demand for it.

From left to right: Sandra Malagón and Yanin Rodríguez from Retdes, with Lina Hernandez from Pure Earth.
The fish is a popular traditional design in Michoacán as it makes reference to the origin of the name of the state, which means “fishermen’s place”

“Many of the buyers we met here in New York asked if the pottery was lead-free. They know about the dangers of leaded pottery,” says Sandra Malagón, director of Retdes.

“But in Mexico, local wholesalers are sometimes reluctant to try lead-free pottery because they think it is not shiny enough, even if they can see how similar our pottery looks. They are just used to traditional leaded pottery, but change will come.”

The small nonprofit first reached out to Pure Earth last year when they needed help assessing the impact of lead use in the Michoacán community of artisans.

They had learned about Pure Earth’s pilot program in Morelos state, where we have been training artisans to go lead-free, cleaning up contaminated workshops, and monitoring blood lead levels of the community, especially children.

Pure Earth’s Daniel Estrada uses an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer to test a yard in Michoacán, where children often play. The XRF can detect toxic contaminants in soil in under a minute.

Responding to Retdes, Pure Earth’s program director in Mexico, Daniel Estrada, went to Michoacán to assess the level of lead contamination in the community.

Daniel tested homes, play yards, pottery workshops, food storage areas, and more. He also learned that children in Michoacán had blood lead levels as high as 65 µg/dL (the U.S. level of concern is 5 µg/dL, although there is no safe level of lead).

Armed with data, the Pure Earth team then returned to remediate three workshops in Michoacán and continues to lend a hand. To date, two of Retdes’ artisans have joined Pure Earth’s Barro Aprobado program, and we expect more to follow.

Pure Earth’s Daniel Estrada uses an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) analyzer to test a storage area in Michoacán. The XRF can detect toxic contaminants in the ground in under a minute.

“We’re happy to lend a hand. The more potters that are trained to go lead-free, the more their influence will spread, and open up markets, both inside and outside Mexico,” says Daniel, who recently launched Barro Aprobado’s  “Adopt-a-potter” program with HSBC. He has also been working to help Barro Aprobado artisans introduce their lead-free pottery to a wider public at local pottery fairs.

“Creating an awareness and demand for lead-free pottery is one of the key ways we are addressing the national lead poisoning problem. Currently, leaded pottery is still used in many homes and restaurants around the country.”

Pure Earth’s Daniel Estrada speaking with potters in Michoacán.

Retdes prepared for their foray into the New York market by testing out new ideas and designs for their lead-free works.

Yanin Rodríguez from Retdes shows off a cup decorated with the traditional Capulineado flower.

They encouraged the potters to craft items they thought would be popular in the U.S., like tequila shot glasses, as well as plates, bowls and tea sets with local designs such as the traditional Capulineado flower.

A teacup decorated with the traditional Capulineado flower.
Popular new designs include these tequila shot glasses.

The Retdes team returned to Mexico with orders and more leads to follow. Congratulations!

A Michoacán potter.

We look forward to continuing to work with Retdes.

See a directory of lead-free potters, restaurants and stores at Barro Aprobado.


Barro Aprobado Lead-Free Potter Wins Prize – Q&A With Doña Rosario

Want lead-free food? Visit the first “Barro Aprobado” restaurant in Mexico

HSBC Mexico’s “Adopt A Potter” Program Takes On Urgency After Earthquake

Photo Essay Mexico: Lead Exposure From Traditional Pottery


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