Back from Mexico – Removing Lead from a Tradition

Just returned from Mexico with Blacksmith’s globe-trotting program officer Bret Ericson (who’s also the task manager for our global inventory project).  For me, Mexico always brings to mind wonderful, colorful pottery, perhaps because there is a such a strong ceramics tradition there. Unfortunately, this tradition also involves the use of toxic lead-based glazes.  Even though there is now a lead-free alternative glaze that is available and CHEAPER,  it is a hard habit to break for the 50,000 or so Mexican potters. Because it is something so entrenched in their way of life, the potters are, in a way, blinded to the lead poisoning that goes on around them.

About 50,000 ceramics producers in Mexico use toxic lead-based glazes

About 50,000 ceramics producers in Mexico use toxic lead-based glazes

A year ago, we entered into a partnership with Fondo Nacional Para El Fomento De Las Artesanias (FONART), a Mexican government agency that has been working on the problem (see Blacksmith August newsletter). We went back this time to collaborate with FONART and the Mexico Ministry of Environment on a 2-part plan to convince Mexican potters to stop using toxic lead in their ceramics glazes, and then to clean up the contamination.

We decided that to break the habit, we had to show the potters hard data to prove that they and their families are being poisoned. To do this, we are going to test their children to highlight their extremely elevated blood lead levels. Once the potters make the switch to lead-free glazes, we will launch into step 2 — cleaning up the lead contamination in the community.  We also plan to re-test  the children to show the corresponding drop in blood lead levels.  Cause and effect.  That’s the best way to educate and get change to happen.  That’s the way to spread the message from one family-run pottery to the next.

While in Mexico, we also hired a Mexico country coordinator for Blacksmith — Daniel Estrada.  Daniel will oversee the project on the ground.  One of his first tasks will be to train nurses to take blood lead samples from the potters’ children.

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