Story

Glazing and Health as Family Affairs

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La Victoria sits nestled in the Andes mountains, 125 kilometers south of Quito. During the 2000s, the air and soil here were heavily contaminated by lead that was emitted from backyard ceramic glazing kilns. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

La Victoria sits nestled in the Andes mountains, 125 kilometers south of Quito. During the 2000s, the air and soil here were heavily contaminated by lead that was emitted from backyard ceramic glazing kilns. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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The road to Hilda Maria Sontasig’s house in La Victoria is made of dusty gray-brown sand. Aloe vera plants line the roadway, and mountains form the backdrop for cinder block homesteads. According to Angela Collaguaso, RN, of the La Victoria health center, Sontasig is one of only seven local artisans still openly using the lead from car batteries to glaze roof tiles. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

The road to Hilda Maria Sontasig’s house in La Victoria is made of dusty gray-brown sand. Aloe vera plants line the roadway, and mountains form the backdrop for cinder block homesteads. According to Angela Collaguaso, RN, of the La Victoria health center, Sontasig is one of only seven local artisans still openly using the lead from car batteries to glaze roof tiles. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Hilda Maria Sontasig, 55, is a jovial woman, usually seen sporting an apron and a baseball cap. Her thick forearms extend in greeting as soon as anyone appears. The green machine in the background is a molino, or mill, used to speed the procedure of mixing and processing clay. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Hilda Maria Sontasig, 55, is a jovial woman, usually seen sporting an apron and a baseball cap. Her thick forearms extend in greeting as soon as anyone appears. The green machine in the background is a molino, or mill, used to speed the procedure of mixing and processing clay. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Sontasig forms clay roof tiles by hand. First she spreads a thin layer of sand over her workspace, and then she expertly presses clay mined from nearby mountains into a frame to shape it. Sontasig produces 600 tiles like this every day. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Sontasig forms clay roof tiles by hand. First she spreads a thin layer of sand over her workspace, and then she expertly presses clay mined from nearby mountains into a frame to shape it. Sontasig produces 600 tiles like this every day. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Rosa Alba Padilla, 48, transfers a freshly formed roof tile from its curved mold to its place in a row outside Sontasig’s home. Padilla is a day laborer with “Tejedoras de La Victoria” (Artisans of La Victoria), and she is Sontasig's neighbor. These clay tiles will dry for 48 hours before their initial firing in the kiln. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Rosa Alba Padilla, 48, transfers a freshly formed roof tile from its curved mold to its place in a row outside Sontasig’s home. Padilla is a day laborer with “Tejedoras de La Victoria” (Artisans of La Victoria), and she is Sontasig's neighbor. These clay tiles will dry for 48 hours before their initial firing in the kiln. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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A lead glaze is used to "dar el brillo"—give the brightness or shine—to Sontasig’s terra cotta roof tiles. These finished tiles are stacked inside her firing kiln. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

A lead glaze is used to "dar el brillo"—give the brightness or shine—to Sontasig’s terra cotta roof tiles. These finished tiles are stacked inside her firing kiln. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Hilda Maria Sontasig, 55, uses a mixture of the powdered chemicals from utility batteries, commercial ceramic frita, and lead stripped from automobile batteries to glaze her roof tiles. She says that she continues using batteries and lead in smaller quantities than she used before the frita was available, because it is the only way for her to achieve a colored glaze. Sontasig’s daughter, Mayra, is severely mentally disabled.  Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

Hilda Maria Sontasig, 55, uses a mixture of the powdered chemicals from utility batteries, commercial ceramic frita, and lead stripped from automobile batteries to glaze her roof tiles. She says that she continues using batteries and lead in smaller quantities than she used before the frita was available, because it is the only way for her to achieve a colored glaze. Sontasig’s daughter, Mayra, is severely mentally disabled. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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Anita Romero, 35, stands near the home of her mother, Hilda Maria Sontasig. Anita moved in with her mother when her first son, Éric Davíd, was 2 years old. Érik was born with congenital defects, which may or may not have been related to lead toxicity. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

Anita Romero, 35, stands near the home of her mother, Hilda Maria Sontasig. Anita moved in with her mother when her first son, Éric Davíd, was 2 years old. Érik was born with congenital defects, which may or may not have been related to lead toxicity. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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This is Érik Davíd Aguayo, 7. Érik was born with a cleft lip and other craniofacial abnormalities related to his eyes, nose, ears, and his ability to hear. At 5 years of age, after living in his grandmother’s home with an adjacent lead-glazing roof tile workshop for 3 years, Aguayo began to show signs of severe language, psychological, and learning disabilities. Image by Yolanda Escobar. J Ecuador, 2016.

This is Érik Davíd Aguayo, 7. Érik was born with a cleft lip and other craniofacial abnormalities related to his eyes, nose, ears, and his ability to hear. At 5 years of age, after living in his grandmother’s home with an adjacent lead-glazing roof tile workshop for 3 years, Aguayo began to show signs of severe language, psychological, and learning disabilities. Image by Yolanda Escobar. J Ecuador, 2016.

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According to his grandmother, Érik Davíd Aguayo loves to play in her workshop. Here, Érik has fun atop rows of lead-glazed roof tiles near his grandmother’s home. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

According to his grandmother, Érik Davíd Aguayo loves to play in her workshop. Here, Érik has fun atop rows of lead-glazed roof tiles near his grandmother’s home. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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The shells of used automobile batteries are a common sight around homes in La Victoria. These plastic boxes once housed plates of lead, which were melted for use in toxic ceramic glazes. Now they are used as furniture or for other functions. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

The shells of used automobile batteries are a common sight around homes in La Victoria. These plastic boxes once housed plates of lead, which were melted for use in toxic ceramic glazes. Now they are used as furniture or for other functions. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Gasoline and coal tar are used as ceramic colorants in La Victoria. These materials contain lead, benzene, phenols, and other carcinogenic compounds, and they are applied by hand to flowerpots, bowls, and vases. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Gasoline and coal tar are used as ceramic colorants in La Victoria. These materials contain lead, benzene, phenols, and other carcinogenic compounds, and they are applied by hand to flowerpots, bowls, and vases. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Rosa Alba Padilla, 48, is a ceramic artisan who lives across the road from Hilda Maria Sontasig. Her family has one pair of gloves to use during the painting of ceramic dishes with gasoline and tar. Due to the caustic nature of these substances, the gloves have been corroded through and are no longer functional. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Rosa Alba Padilla, 48, is a ceramic artisan who lives across the road from Hilda Maria Sontasig. Her family has one pair of gloves to use during the painting of ceramic dishes with gasoline and tar. Due to the caustic nature of these substances, the gloves have been corroded through and are no longer functional. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Domingo Gabriel Bastidas, 67, has been a potter in La Victoria his whole life. His grandmother glazed roof tiles with lead, and he did the same in the early stages of his career. Bastidas’s first child, Blanca, died when she was 6 months old. He has four living children, three of whom are married and live in larger cities. One of his children, Henry Mauricio, 27, is disabled and lives at home. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

Domingo Gabriel Bastidas, 67, has been a potter in La Victoria his whole life. His grandmother glazed roof tiles with lead, and he did the same in the early stages of his career. Bastidas’s first child, Blanca, died when she was 6 months old. He has four living children, three of whom are married and live in larger cities. One of his children, Henry Mauricio, 27, is disabled and lives at home. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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Bastidas laughs with his son, Henry Mauricio. According to his mother, Maria Pruno Bastidas, 58, Henry has mental disabilities including problems with language, memory, and learning. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Bastidas laughs with his son, Henry Mauricio. According to his mother, Maria Pruno Bastidas, 58, Henry has mental disabilities including problems with language, memory, and learning. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Umberto Pruno Rodriguez, 60, is Maria Pruno’s older brother. He emerges from a doorway at the back of their property, making indiscernible sounds and struggling to walk. Rodriguez’s mouth is continuously agape. As he clutches his belly and tries to communicate, it appears that he may be in pain. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Umberto Pruno Rodriguez, 60, is Maria Pruno’s older brother. He emerges from a doorway at the back of their property, making indiscernible sounds and struggling to walk. Rodriguez’s mouth is continuously agape. As he clutches his belly and tries to communicate, it appears that he may be in pain. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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The loading dock at ESFEL S.A., a ceramic frita producer, is stocked with bags of different types of fritas. Some of these powdered alternative glaze materials are made with sodium or calcium as fluxes to lower their melting temperatures—but the fritas with glazing temperatures attainable by rural backyard kilns contain lead. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

The loading dock at ESFEL S.A., a ceramic frita producer, is stocked with bags of different types of fritas. Some of these powdered alternative glaze materials are made with sodium or calcium as fluxes to lower their melting temperatures—but the fritas with glazing temperatures attainable by rural backyard kilns contain lead. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

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Marco Rodrigo Mena, 54, tends to his oven in El Tejar—the village next door to La Victoria. Mena wants to improve the market for potters in La Victoria and lift them out of poverty. He says the most important step will be better oven technology. A new, hotter burning oven would cost $25,000, but it would effectively melt non-toxic ceramic glazes, produce dependable color patterns, and avoid the use of lead. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

Marco Rodrigo Mena, 54, tends to his oven in El Tejar—the village next door to La Victoria. Mena wants to improve the market for potters in La Victoria and lift them out of poverty. He says the most important step will be better oven technology. A new, hotter burning oven would cost $25,000, but it would effectively melt non-toxic ceramic glazes, produce dependable color patterns, and avoid the use of lead. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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Edgar Patricio Neto Nuñez is the environmental director in the municipality of Pujilí, which oversees La Victoria. “Firing [backyard artisan] kilns contaminates the air. This not only affects the nuclear family, but the whole world. Elements in the smoke affect the whole planet,” he said. Neto is negotiating with a Swiss company based in Cuenca, Ecuador, to bring higher technology kilns to La Victoria. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

Edgar Patricio Neto Nuñez is the environmental director in the municipality of Pujilí, which oversees La Victoria. “Firing [backyard artisan] kilns contaminates the air. This not only affects the nuclear family, but the whole world. Elements in the smoke affect the whole planet,” he said. Neto is negotiating with a Swiss company based in Cuenca, Ecuador, to bring higher technology kilns to La Victoria. Image by Yolanda Escobar J. Ecuador, 2016.

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Dr. Patricia Borja, 37, has practiced medicine at the Subcentro de Salud in La Victoria for three years. Here, she examines a member of the new La Victoria generation, Cristofer Elián Chilrisa Sevilla, 2 months old, and he is healthy. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Dr. Patricia Borja, 37, has practiced medicine at the Subcentro de Salud in La Victoria for three years. Here, she examines a member of the new La Victoria generation, Cristofer Elián Chilrisa Sevilla, 2 months old, and he is healthy. Image by Caitlin Cotter. Ecuador, 2016.

Ecuador is a family-oriented country, and the village of La Victoria is a good example of this. Extended family members, many of whom may have been disabled by the effects of lead used in the production of ceramics, face challenges together.

This photo slideshow guides us through the process of artisan ceramics production in Andean Ecuador and provides a glimmer of hope for the future of La Victoria while introducing us to affected families and potential solutions.