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

HSBC launched a unique “Adopt A Potter” program in support of Pure Earth’s work to reduce lead poisoning from the widespread use of traditional leaded pottery in Mexico.

Under the program, corporate volunteers visit artisans who have made their practices lead-free in order to see how their pottery workshops are run. The volunteers subsequently work in teams to develop a strategy for the artisans, providing assistance in sales, marketing, finance, administration and other business skills required to grow the lead-free business.

However, prior to this meeting, an earthquake struck which resulted in the loss of community member lives as well as damage to pottery workshops.

In response, HSBC volunteers brought relief supplies to the community. In addition, the volunteers decided to continue with the “Adopt A Potter” program.

In October, one month after the earthquake, volunteers packed a bus and headed to Tlayacapan, Mexico. The volunteers visited several workshops, where they watched the potters work. The volunteers also aided with some repairs to the buildings damaged by the earthquake.

The collaboration is expected to continue as the artisans and volunteers work together to promote lead-free pottery.

From the Pollution Blog: HSCBC Mexico’s “Adopt A Potter” Program Takes On Urgency After Earthquake

Barro Aprobado In New York – Helping Mexican Lead-Free Artisans Reach A Wider Market

A team comprising of a group of artisans from Michoacán in Mexico travelled to New York to showcase their lead-free pottery at one of NY Now. This is one of the largest trade shows in the country where buyers come to scout for products that fill store shelves nationwide. Pure Earth’s Barro Aprobado program is to promote lead-free pottery and to create a demand for it. This is partly achieved by expanding the market for it through NY Now.

Some of the potters from Michoacán, Mexico

Retdes, a small non-profit working with the potters, reached out to Pure Earth last year when they needed assistance in assessing the effect of lead use in the Michoacán artisan community. In response, Daniel Estrada , Pure Earth’s program director in Mexico, travelled to Michoacán to assess the extent of lead contamination in the community.

Homes, play yards, pottery workshops, food storage areas, and other areas were tested for lead. Children tested for lead 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).

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 promgram, and we expect more to follow

From the Pollution Blog: Barro Aprobado In New York – Helping Mexican Lead-Free Artisans Reach A Wider Market

Restoration of Rainforest Stripped By Gold Mining in the Amazon

Replanting work in progress

This project is focused on the restoration of rainforest in the Madre Dios region of Peru, a hotbed of ecological and economic riches.

First Application of Mining Restoration Plan: Pure Earth partnered with CINCIA (Amazon Center of Scientific Innovation) to ecologically restore the Paolita II Mining Concession of Madre de Dios during December 2017.  Plant species were first selected based on their ecological and economic potential. The plants we re chosen using prior knowledge from previous pilot studies conducted by CINCIA. Nine different species were eventually chosen for restoration. Many species were chosen for their various uses. For instance, the Huito tree was chosen as it can be utilized as timber but can also provide local indigenous populations with temporary tattoo dye, ointment and medicine. The project team, which included seven university students from CINCIA dispersed more than 4000 kl (kiloliter) of compost and planted 4,166 seedlings. In March 2018, the team will add 744 additional seedlings to reinforce initial growth.

The Pure Earth Paolita II plantation will function as a model and training center to help future stakeholders responsibly close mines without leaving behind a legacy of social and environmental degradation.

From the Pollution Blog: Restoring Rainforest Stripped By Gold Mining in the Amazon

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

The media turned out in force to help us  launch "Barro Aprobado" and spread awareness about lead-free pottery.

The media turned out in force to help us launch “Barro Aprobado” and spread awareness about lead-free pottery in Mexico.

Across Mexico every day, millions of meals served in homes and restaurants come with an extra, unseen ingredient — toxic lead.

Want lead-free food?

The Casa de Campo restaurant, housed in a 260 year-old building in Cuernavaca’s historic downtown in Morelos state, is the first restaurant to go lead-free under the “Barro Aprobado” program launched by Pure Earth/Blacksmith Institute and partners.

This means that the restaurant is only using traditional Mexican pottery that has been certified lead-free to cook and serve food.

The "Barro Aprobado" campaign launched on the beautiful grounds of the Casa de Campo, the first restaurant certified lead-free under the program.

The “Barro Aprobado” campaign launched in Morelos state, on the beautiful, historic grounds of the Casa de Campo, the first restaurant certified lead-free under the program.












“We are very excited that the food prepared in this building will be lead-free, quite probably for the first time in over two centuries,” says Daniel Estrada, who oversees the “Barro Aprobado” lead-free pottery project for Pure Earth/Blacksmith in Mexico.

Most traditional pottery used in homes and restaurants across the country are produced by local artisans using toxic lead glazes. Of the estimated 10,000 to 50,000 pottery workshops across the country, only about 100 are lead free.

A display of "Barro Aprobado" lead-free pottery on the grounds of the Casa de Campo restaurant.

A display of “Barro Aprobado” lead-free pottery at the Casa de Campo restaurant. Now, the food prepared in this building will be lead-free, quite possibly for the first time in over two centuries.

Because of the widespread use of leaded pottery, over 70% of the population of Mexico—an estimated 80 million Mexican men, women, and children—have blood lead levels above the WHO standard of 5 ug/dl.

  • The average blood lead level in Mexico City, where traditional pottery is used less often, is 8 ug/dl.
  • Elsewhere across Mexico, the average blood lead level is about 10 ug/dl.
  • Among lead-glaze based pottery artisans, the average blood lead level is 26 ug/dl and can reach as high as 65.
Delicious food served on lead-free pottery.

Delicious food served on lead-free pottery.












The “Barro Aprobado” program is working with local potters to get them to switch to a cheaper, lead-free glaze. At the same time, the program is introducing these lead-free potters to restaurant owners to show that there is a demand for lead-free pottery.

“We are hoping that these relationships will lead to more restaurants replacing their leaded pottery with lead-free ones that are produced by local traditional potters they know and trust,” says Daniel.



The “Barro Aprobado” program is also giving out free lead test kits to about 100 stores so that customers can be guaranteed that what they buy is truly lead-free.







Homero Aridjis’ Heartfelt Plea For A Lead-Free Mexico

Renowned poet, novelist and environmental activist Homero Aridjis has long been an active and eloquent voice for Mexico.  We are honored that he is speaking out in support of our recently-launched “Barro Aprobado” project to solve Mexico’s 500 year-old tradition of beautiful but deadly pottery

In this video, Aridjis reflects on the national lead problem, which affects over 70% of the country’s population, and recalls a speech he made 20 years ago at the request of Mexico’s President.

English translation

In May 1991, we had an emergency with the problem of lead in the blood of children, fetuses of women, and indeed it was putting many lives at risk, not only in the places where people worked, but also in residential areas. The lead sources were very common: the pottery vessels that were produced with leaded glazed, lead in pencils, lead in paint and also the inhaled lead from gasoline.

One day Dr. Palazuelos told me that the U.S. ambassador in Mexico in those years, Mr. Negroponte, had a big problem of lead poisoning in his children living in Mexico City and that Dr. Palazuelos had to treat them. This was a lead poisoning family secret of a U.S. ambassador. He was thinking of moving from Mexico to another country because of the lead problem.

The problem happened to children playing on swings. Their hands were impregnated with lead, or in schools with pencils that contained lead. Also house paint had lead. In those days it coincided that the President of the Republic at that time, Mr. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, asked me to give the speech for World Environment Day. I based my speech on the urgency for Mexico to legislate on lead, because it was a serious health problem and there was almost no awareness of the problem and there were no regulations and no actions were taken to regulate the presence of lead in various food products and in our daily lives. What especially worried us was that children were born with lead in their blood.

My speech was very sincere, very direct. I asked President Salinas to take steps to combat the problem of lead in Mexico. Some people there were alarmed when I touched the issue so directly, so urgently and so sincerely. They told me, “That’s no way to talk to the President, and I hope he does not become angry.” But I said, “No, he is not going to get mad because it is a real problem and a presidential action is needed”. ]

To our surprise, Carlos Salinas decided right then to take steps to reduce the amount of lead in various products in the country. He contacted Jaime Serra Puche, the Secretary of Commerce at the time to address the problem of lead. We gave Serra Puche a diagnose of the problem and he began to take action. That was one of the first cases in which the lead issue was raised along with importance of taking take action on the issue.

I believe that this movement on pottery (Barro Aprobado) is very important. All civil society should support it as well as the state governments, starting with the government of Morelos.

This can be a model for the rest of the country to take measures on lead. Lead remains a major problem, a major risk to human health and I also believe that if the lead problem is solved in pottery, it will be very beneficial for all those who produce pottery. All the ceramics will then not only be purchased/used in Mexico but also exported abroad.

Spanish transcript:

En mayo de 1991, tuvimos una emergencia por el problema del plomo en la sangre de niños, de fetos de las mujeres y precisamente que estaba poniendo en peligro la vida de muchas personas, no solamente en los lugares donde se laboraba pero también en las zonas residenciales. Las fuentes del plomo pues eran muy comunes: precisamente las vasijas que se producían con barro que tenían presencia de plomo, en los lápices, en la pintura y también en el plomo que se inhalaba. Y un día el Dr. Palazuelos se acercó a mí contándome – o haciendo una revelación- que el embajador de EUA en México en esos años, el señor Negroponte tenía un gran problema de plomo, envenenamiento de plomo, en sus hijos en la Cd. de México y que él debió de atenderlos. Esto era un secreto de la familia de un embajador de EUA por envenenamiento de plomo, casi él estaba pidiendo su cambio del México a otro país por el problema del plomo.

Esto se daba de pronto en niños que jugaban en columpios y sus manos se quedaban impregnadas con plomo, o en las escuelas, con lápices que tenían plomo. También las pinturas de las casas. Y por esos días coincidió que el presidente de la República en ese entonces, el Lic. Carlos Salinas de Gortari, me pidió que yo diera el discurso por el día mundial del medio ambiente. Entonces fui a dar el discurso y basé mi discurso en la urgencia que en México se legislara sobre el plomo, porque era un grave problema de salud y no había casi conciencia sobre ese problema y tampoco había reglamentos y no se tomaban tampoco medidas para regular la presencia del plomo en diversos alimentos, en productos y en nuestra vida cotidiana. Y sobre todo lo que más nos preocupaba, a nosotros, es que estaban naciendo niños con plomo en la sangre y había mujeres que tenían en los fetos plomo.

Ahí yo en el discurso fui muy sincero, muy directo y le pedí al presidente Salinas que tomara las medidas necesarias para combatir el problema del plomo en México. Algunas personas que estaban ahí presentes se alarmaron cuando yo toqué el problema de una manera tan directa, tan urgente y tan sincera. Me dijeron: “Esa no es manera de hablarle al presidente de la República, así. Espero que no se enoje” y le dije: “No, no se va a enojar porque es un problema real y se necesita una medida presidencial para combatirlo”. Para nuestra sorpresa Carlos Salinas decidió en ese mismo momento tomar medidas para reducir el volumen de plomo en diversos productos en el país. Puso en contacto al Secretario de Comercio en ese momento que era Jaime Serra Puche para que conmigo tratara el problema del plomo. Entonces nosotros le presentamos a Serra Puche un diagnóstico de la problemática y se empezaron a tomar medidas. Ahí fue uno de los primeros casos en que la problemática del plomo se planteó y también se planteó la necesidad de tomar medidas.

Considero que este movimiento sobre el barro que se está haciendo en estos días es muy importante. Que toda la sociedad civil de México debe de apoyarlo y también los gobiernos de los estados, comenzando por el gobierno de Morelos. Esto puede ser un modelo para el resto del país que se tomen medidas sobre el plomo. Porque continúa siendo un gran problema, un gran riesgo para la salud humana y también yo creo que si se resuelve el problema del plomo en el barro, nosotros podemos considerar que va a ser muy beneficioso para todos aquellos que viven de producir vasijas, toda esa cerámica que puede no solamente ser comprada/usada en México sino también exportada al extranjero.

Learn more about Barro Aprobado and lead in Mexico: in English, in Spanish



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.

Infographic 1












Infographic 2




Tools of the Trade: The XRF Finds Toxic Hotspots in 30 Seconds

XRF photo 1It is a small but powerful tool.  The handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescent) analyzer can identify toxic particles in soil in about 30 seconds, allowing remediation crews to quickly locate and determine the extent of any contamination, and potentially begin life-saving cleanup without delays.

“Before getting an XRF, we had to manually collect soil samples, package them and somehow get them to an accredited laboratory, which might be located in a different country, for analysis,” says Jack Caravanos, head of Blacksmith’s Technical Advisory Board and a professor of environmental health at Hunter College.

“When you have hundreds of plastic bags filled with soil and other biological contaminants, transporting them is quite a challenge.”

An official of Terragraphics Enviro work

In Nigeria

In Nigeria, we used the XRF to take samples of contaminated soil in Zamfara following one of the world’s worst outbreaks of lead poisoning that, according to some reports, has killed over 400 children to date.

In Uruguay, we used the XRF in the city of Montevideo to accelerate lead cleanup in the Aquiles Lanza neighborhood, where some residents make their living by burning e-waste to extract valuable materials like copper.

We collected over 100 soil readings in Montevideo, using the data to target the most polluted areas for remediation, and then to document lead readings before and after cleanup to measure effectiveness.  We were also able to create a map showing the distribution of lead contamination in the neighborhood.

XRF in Uruguay

In Uruguay

“In a project like this, the XRF allows us to provide a good model for rapid evaluation and cleanup of toxic hotspots that can be reproduced in other areas of Montevideo, in particular in neighborhoods around the Arroyo Pantanoso Basin,” says Sandra Gualtero, Blacksmith’s program director for Latin America.

XRF e-waste Ghana 4927580076_f4b064a62e_z

in Ghana

In Nigeria, we used the XRF to gauge contaminants in the soil at “Sodom and Gomorrah,” the notorious Agbogbloshie e-waste dump site in Ghana.

In Armenia, we are using am XRF to assess heavy metal contamination in a mining town, and we hope to start work in Mongolia soon.

Snapshots of Progress in 2013 – LATIN AMERICA

  • Filipino Miners in Bolivia
  • Roadmap For Cleanup
  • More Pilot Projects on the Way

Filipino miner in BoliviaBlacksmith brought Filipino gold miners to Latin America in 2013 to test and teach the Benguet method, (sometimes known as the “borax method“) to artisanal miners in Bolivia.

If successful, the method could dramatically reduce the use of toxic mercury in small-scale gold mining across Latin America and the rest of the world. We are conducing similar tests in other countries, including Indonesia.

Another highlight in 2013 was the creation of a roadmap for pollution cleanup in Latin America that draws on lessons learnt from successful environmental regulatory efforts in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and the US.

The roadmap with six governing principles is outlined in a report conducted by The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and is being made available to stakeholders across the region.
The time is right for a report like this. Countries in Latin America are very eager to do something about toxic pollution. They all seem to be moving towards enacting or improving regulations related to the clean up of contaminated sites,” notes Sandra Gualtero, Blacksmith’s Program Director for Latin America.

To help cleanup efforts, Blacksmith also identified, assessed and added over 80 polluted sites across five Latin American countries to the Blacksmith database.

In addition, two pilot projects implemented within the framework of the Global Alliance of Health and Pollution are being carried out in the cities of Montevideo in Uruguay and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Roadmap For Pollution Cleanup in Latin America

A new report provides a roadmap that can be used to accelerate pollution cleanup in Latin America.  With input from experts from seven Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay) and the U.S., the report examines environmental remediation laws and regulations that have proven to be particularly effective, and distills the findings into six governing principles that can be used as a model throughout Latin America for further refinement and discussion as environmental remediation laws are implemented, fine-tuned, and modified.

“In the U.S., the passage of what’s known as the Superfund program was what triggered cleanup. Even then, it took years of fine-tuning and modification to come up with best practices that worked. This report will help accelerate the process for Latin American countries. With effective regulations, cleanup of toxic pollution can happen faster, and more lives will be saved,” says Bret Ericson, Blacksmith’s Program Director for the Toxic Sites Identification Program.

The report is currently being made available to stakeholders across Latin America.

The time is right for a report like this. Countries in Latin America are very eager to do something about toxic pollution. They all seem to be moving towards enacting or improving regulations related to the cleanup of contaminated sites,” notes Sandra Gualtero, Blacksmith’s Program Director for Latin America.

[Read more, download the report “Regulatory Best Practices for Remediation of Legacy Toxic Contamination,” or click the images on the right to download English and Spanish versions]

The report was conducted by the Vance Center and commissioned by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP –a collaborative body supported by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Commission, the UN and other agencies and countries). Blacksmith serves as Secretariat for the GAHP

The six governing principles are: (Read full descriptions of the six principals in the report at

1) Create clear numeric guidelines for establishing that a site is contaminated
Although contaminated sites are often defined as sites where pollution is present at levels that may present a threat to human health and the environment, it is useful to enact regulations that specifically define what those levels are, so that sites with contamination at or above those levels can be readily identified as candidates for further investigation and remediation, if necessary based on the risk of exposure of vulnerable populations.

2) Utilize commercial triggers to identify contaminated sites
Evaluation of historic contamination should be required when project proponents are applying for facility permits (or modifications to existing permits), when industrial facilities are being bought and sold, and when industrial facilities are being shut down. These commercial triggers will result in the identification of contaminated sites at a time when commercial activity is taking place and funding for investigation and remediation is most likely to be available.

3) Create incentives for voluntary remediation
Laws and regulations should encourage private parties to come forward on a voluntary basis to address legacy contamination on sites that they own and operate, or on sites that they are thinking about acquiring.

4) Create a clear and efficient remediation process
One of the most significant barriers to environmental cleanup is the uncertainty surrounding applicable cleanup standards, the complexity of the process, and the involvement of multiple governmental agencies with actually or potentially conflicting jurisdiction. Experience has shown that published cleanup standards, a simple process for engagement with the government, and clear delineations of which agency has jurisdiction over a particular cleanup will encourage increased private sector participation.

5) Provide meaningful opportunities for public review and comment
Environmental remediation regulations and practices often benefit from input from members of the business community who will be called upon to effectuate cleanups and also by members of the community who live in close proximity to contaminated sites. Site remediation plans may also be more pragmatic and tailored to actual risk if they are subject to prior public review and comment.

6) Develop effective mechanisms to address abandoned sites
Sites that are not subject to commercial activity or voluntary remediation can be the most troublesome from a governmental perspective. Governments should consider creating a registry of such sites so that they can be identified for investigation and evaluated as candidates for future remediation. Sites should be prioritized for cleanup based on a clear methodology established by the government to address those that pose the greatest risk first.