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Sci Total Environ. 2009 Apr 1;407(8):2836-44. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.12.059. Epub 2009 Jan 29.

Lead (II) detection and contamination routes in environmental sources, cookware and home-prepared foods from Zimatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Environmental Bio-Geochemistry Group, LAFQA, Instituto de Geografía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico.


An interdisciplinary investigation, involving environmental geochemists, epidemiologists, nurses, and anthropologists, was undertaken to determine the contamination source and pathway of an on-going outbreak of lead poisoning among migrants originating from Zimatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico and living in Seaside, California, and among their US-born children. An initial investigation in Seaside identified grasshopper foodstuff ("chapulines") imported from Mexico and consumed as snacks, as containing alarmingly high lead concentrations (up to 2300 mg/kg). The focus in the present work concentrates on the Oaxacan area of origin of the problem in Mexico, and two potential sources of contamination were investigated: wind-borne dusts from existing mine residues as potential contaminants of soil, plant, and fauna; and food preparation practices using lead-glazed ceramic cookware. Over a three year period, sampling was conducted in Oaxaca using community-level sampling and also targeted sampling with families of cases with lead poisoning in California. In addition to fresh field chapulines, we analyzed for total lead: soil, water, mine residues, and plant materials, both from areas adjacent to or at an abandoned waste site containing mine tailings, and from fields where chapulines are collected; foodstuffs gathered in community markets or in a food transport business; and foodstuffs and cookware gathered from relatives of case families in California. Also, selected new and used lead-glazed clay cookware was extracted for lead, using 0.02 M citric acid and with 4% acetic acid. The results indicated significant presence of lead in mine wastes, in specific foodstuffs, and in glazed cookware, but no extensive soil contamination was identified. In-situ experiments demonstrated that lead incorporation in food is made very efficient through grinding of spices in glazed cookware, with the combination of a harsh mechanical action and the frequent presence of acidic lime juice, but without heating, resulting in high but variable levels of contamination.

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