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COMMISSION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION

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Mexican traditional brickmaking under scrutiny
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Mexican craft brickmaking boy bricks
Photos represent traditional brickmaking operations in Mexico.

As a first step in creating a brick production network and exploring ways to foster the use of ecological kilns to reduce the negative environmental effects of the traditional brickmaking process in Mexico, a workshop on reducing the risks from traditional artisanal brick kiln operations was held in January 2010 in the city of Querétaro, Mexico.

Sponsored by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America through its Sound Management of Chemicals (SMOC) program, the meeting brought together more than 50 participants from Canada, Mexico and the United States, representing research and economic development centers, educational institutions and civic organizations, as well as private funding and technical assistance agencies.

Specialists from the three countries addressed such issues as the economic investment required to adopt efficient, alternative technologies, the brick producers' acceptance of these options, and analyses of the environmental, health and legal implications, among other topics.

Throughout the two-day meeting, more than 10 researchers from states such as Coahuila, Chihuahua, Mexico City, Durango, Mexico State, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Querétaro and San Luís Potosí exchanged viewpoints and stressed the regional importance of the issue for North America, as the pollution from artisanal brick production processes knows no borders.

The traditional methods used in brickmaking in most Mexican towns rely on combustion processes of dubious safety and fired with high-polluting fuels,

Mexican craft brickmaking image 2 cropped
which cause serious pollution problems, especially for the soil and air, with the associated risks to human health and natural ecosystems.

According to figures from the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales-Semarnat), Mexico may have up to 20,000 kilns. The state of Querétaro is estimated to have approximately 600 traditional brick factories.

In addition to agreeing to form a brick producers' network that will seek the economic support of Mexico's National Science and Technology Council (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología-Conacyt), workshop participants decided to create a virtual network that other interested parties may easily join and an archive of the information collected during the workshop, to be updated periodically and made available for public consultation.

The commitments assumed during the Querétaro meeting also include a linkage with colleges or associations of architects, engineers and builders, the assessment of the advantages of fostering the use sustainably produced bricks in construction projects and public works to mitigate the environmental impact, and the use of international cooperation models to build and use MK2 ecological kilns and other gas and solar kilns.

The MK2 ecological kiln, designed by scientists at New Mexico State University at Las Cruces in the United States, and built with the participation of Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, has improved thermal efficiency thanks to a dome

Mexican craft brickmaking image 3 cropped
that maximizes the heat produced and reduces particulate emissions. These kilns are currently being used by some brick factories in Ciudad Juárez and San Juan del Río (Querétaro), and in other places in the states of San Luis Potosí, Baja California, and Durango.

In addition to the participation of civil society, represented by such organizations as the El Refugio Brickmakers' Cooperative, the Center for Comprehensive Farm Development (Centro de Desarrollo Integral para el Campo), and the special support of the Querétaro Waste Management Network (Red Queretana de Manejo de Residuos-Reqmar), the workshop was supported by the Semarnat General Bureau of Comprehensive Management of Hazardous Materials, Wastes and Activities (Dirección General de Gestión Integral de Materiales, Residuos y Actividades Riesgosas), the General Bureau of Air Quality and PRTR (Dirección General de Calidad de Aire y RETC) and the state delegation, as well as the National Environmental Research and Training Center (Centro Nacional de Investigación y Capacitación Ambiental-Cenica) of the National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional de Ecología-INE).

The SMOC program is a CEC initiative whose purpose is to minimize the risks of chemicals to human health and the environment in North America. For further information on this program, please visit http://www.cec.org/Page.asp?PageID=1225&SiteNodeID=237&BL_ExpandID

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