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Widespread low-level lead poisoning is one of Mexico’s most critical yet unknown public health concerns. Lead in traditional pottery glaze mixes with acidic foods–like coffee, chili peppers, tomatoes and lemons–-and quickly enters bodies’ digestive systems and bloodstreams.

What is the true scope of lead poisoning in Mexico? Pure Earth has been working with researchers in Mexico, including Dr. Martha María Téllez Rojo, a lead expert with INSP, for over a decade to call attention to the health impacts from lead-glazed pottery. For the first time, we have a clearer picture from a health survey conducted by the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) in Mexico, “National report of blood lead levels and use of glazed mud in vulnerable children.”

The results reveal that at least one million children between one and four years of age (representing 22% of the study population) have elevated blood lead levels above 5 μg/dL (Note: while there is no safe level of lead, the CDC recommends health intervention at levels of 5 μg/dL and above).

“It is important to realize that this figure will rise because this result covers ONLY children living in towns with less than 100,000 inhabitants. When data from other areas of the country are analyzed, the number of children confirmed with elevated blood lead levels will most certainly go beyond the one million mark,” says Daniel Estrada, head of Pure Earth Mexico and one of the co-authors of the report. Our estimates based on extrapolation from our site assessments and including children under 14, is 13 million with elevated blood lead levels.

MEXICO

13 million children under age 14 have elevated blood lead levels.

13M

PARTNERS

Government Agencies

  • COFEPRIS
  • FONART
  • INSP
  • IMSS

Corporations

  • HSBC
  • Clarios Foundation
  • Meridian Bioscience
  • CANIRAC– the national restaurant association

One of the key finding is that the main source of lead poisoning exposure in Mexico is lead-glazed traditional pottery that is used to cook and serve food in many homes and restaurants across the country.

The research found that frequent use of traditional lead-glazed pottery correlated to higher blood lead levels. Only 11% of study subjects who reported not using lead-glazed pottery had elevated blood lead levels, compared to 46% among those that reported frequent use. This link between lead exposure and pottery was also reflected in regional data. The highest proportion of children with elevated blood lead levels (26% or 1 in 4) were found in the Southern regions of Mexico, where 40% of subjects reported using leaded pottery.

Barro Aprobado will continue to drive a multi-sectoral strategy to control lead exposure caused by leaded pottery with the participation of lead experts and officials across various government agencies, including health, labor, tourism and economic sectors.

With support of European Commission and HSBC, Pure Earth launched its Lead and Health Initiative in Mexico in three states. The multi-faceted strategy includes community education on health dangers and economic benefits of safer practices; training potters in using lead-free glaze, marketing and workplace remediation; building demand for lead-free pottery by engaging the hospitality industry; and enforcement of complementary regulations.

Country Summary



Mexican potter Don Francisco has pledged to go lead-free to protect his son.

Up to 20% of Mexicans are poisoned by the pottery they use for daily meals at home and in restaurants across the country. Lead in traditional pottery glaze mixes with acidic foods–like coffee, chili peppers, tomatoes and lemons–and quickly enters bodies’ digestive systems and bloodstreams.

Since 2008, Pure Earth has been working with local authorities in Mexico to address the issue of lead in pottery. Pure Earth’s Barro Aprobado project is working to raise awareness about the dangers of leaded pottery, and to promote the use and production of lead-free pottery.


El Plomo en la Mesa Report

In Mexico, lead is still present in a wide array of everyday items, such as imported cosmetics, commercial candies, certain household paints, and car and electronic batteries, among others. Active and abandoned mines, metallurgy, and the lead-acid battery recycling industry are also major sources of lead-acid exposure. However, lead-oxide glaze that is traditionally used in pottery has been identified as the main cause of chronic poisoning nationwide.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this challenge. Eliminating sources of lead exposure is not only feasible, but also affordable. Moreover, it can generate economic benefits. The WHO confirms that: “The economic benefits of successful interventions against lead poisoning have also proven to be enormous. These benefits far outweigh the costs of creating a national screening program, surveillance, and primary prevention of lead poisoning.”

Since this challenge is primarily linked with the pottery sector, specific interventions that facilitate artisans’ transition to lead-free glazes, while at the same time monitor the blood lead levels of children, will produce significant benefits for both the public health and the economic growth of Mexico.

Read the full report (in Spanish) here.

Watch video of  report briefing here.

Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health- Mexico Summary

Pollution is responsible for 7.6% of deaths in Mexico. Learn more about how pollution affects health and the economy in Mexico by reading the Mexico Summary Report, based on the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.

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