If you were to travel to Mexico, you’d likely admire one of the beautiful, vibrant pottery pieces that the country’s artisans are famous for handcrafting. The bowls and vases may be pretty to look at, but they are also a main reason why almost half of Mexico’s children have a level of lead in their bloodstream so high that their intelligence and behavior will likely be affected. To give you an idea of how serious the problem is, in urban areas, blood levels are almost five times the average of those in the United States. Remote rural areas are thought to have even higher levels, but collecting data there is more difficult. The study also indicates that more than 15% of the Mexican population will experience a loss of more than 5 IQ points from lead exposure. What’s even more astonishing is that lead levels in Mexico have actually decreased as a whole over the past thirty-five years, indicating that lead exposure has had and will continue to have an impact on the nation’s health.
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Lead glazes, traditionally used on the pieces of pottery made and sold everywhere across the nation, and leaded paints (which are abundantly manufactured as part of Mexico’s large paint industry), can leach into food sources, where they are then digested and begin to impact the body and mind. Lead toxicity has been linked to cognitive impairment, cardiovascular risks, and may even be associated with increased rates of violent crime later in life. Although government regulations of lead used in pottery exist, Pure Earth and Blacksmith Institute indicate that such regulations are rarely enforced and tens of thousands of kilns still use the lead-based glazes. A lead-based glaze alternative is available, but government enforcement of regulations to reduce or manage lead levels and consumer concern and push back are clearly needed.
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