Two weeks ago five truckloads of avocados from Jalisco were turned away at the border by United States authorities. This week it’s handcrafts from the same state that are coming under the magnifying class of U.S. officials.
But the reason this time is the lead content in a container load of pottery.
Two containers full of artisanal products from Tonalá were detained at the border five days ago, said the mayor of that municipality yesterday, who saw it as a hardening of policies following Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president.
Today, the general manager of an agency that promotes Jalisco’s foreign trade offered a clarification. Lead had been detected in some pottery jugs yet the shipping documentation described the products as “drinking glasses,” to which U.S. Customs officials objected.
The jugs cannot be used for drinking because their lead content is higher than that permitted by U.S. regulations, said Rubén Reséndiz Pérex of the Jalisco Institute for the Promotion of Foreign Trade, or Jaltrade.
He said one container had been detained at the border as a result.
The Jaltrade official also said there was no cause for alarm because there had been no changes in trade regulations since Donald Trump became president.
The mayor said three to five container loads of products — each with a value between US $15,000 and $50,000 —are shipped to the U.S. weekly, a practice that goes back several years. The containers carry products such as pottery, blown glass, ceramics and wooden furniture.
The handcrafts for which Tonalá is famous — the mayor claims that 30% of Mexico’s total artisanal production comes from his municipality — are shipped to Illinois, Texas and California.
Lead is commonly used in pottery from Mexico and other countries to create an attractive shiny glaze but the health effects of using such pottery for serving food and beverages can be dire.
The experience of a Canadian woman was written up last fall in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The 55-year-old woman had been repeatedly hospitalized for severe abdominal pain.
Subsequent tests of ceramics she had purchased in Mexico and used for cooking and serving food showed that the glaze contained 17% lead, revealed a study conducted by Dr. Michael Fralick, an internist at the University of Toronto and a research fellow at Harvard University.
“Every time she poured hot water into her mug, lead was seeping out of the glaze and into her tea,” he explained.
As a result, her blood lead concentrations were nearly 36 times the upper limit of what is considered normal.
Three months after she stopped using the pottery, the symptoms cleared up.
Testing of blood lead levels in Mexico has found high concentrations, particularly among potters, but they have been resistant to changing their technique. Customers won’t buy pots if they don’t have the shiny glaze.