Another brick in the wall

A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.


brick wallMexico may have up to 20,000 small artisanal kilns according to the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales-Semarnat. One of the states adjacent to Guanajuato, Querétaro, has approximately 600 traditional brick factories while here in San Miguel there are “6 or 7″ located in Ejido de Nuevo Pantoja, which is part of the San Miguel urban area. Attempts to relocate the ladrilleros to Parque Ladrillero on the new road to Guanajuato have not met with much success and complaints about pollution, particularly air quality, have increased.

Mexico’s 20,000 kilns are distributed over 1.95 million square kilometers for an average density of 1:98 sq km. This density is between India’s 1:33 sq km and China’s 1:131 sq km.  Many Chinese and Indian kilns use coal as fuel, which creates different issues than in Mexico where kilns are frequently fired by refuse. In India, many kiln workers are migratory workers who have no proper onsite drinking water or sanitation facilities. In China several incidents of disabled men becoming slave labor in the brick industry have been reported in the past six years.

In 1999 Allen Blackman wrote a report describing brick-making in Mexico. Much of what he said then in Environmentally-Friendly Technological Change Among Mexico’s Traditional Brickmakers:  A Final Narrative Report to the Tinker Foundation is still true.

Most sizable cities in Mexico are home to dozens if not hundreds of small-scale traditional brick kilns that supply building materials for low-cost housing. True micro-enterprises, these kilns are typically ten meters square, employ a half dozen people, and generate profits on the order of $100 per month. Because they use a variety of cheap highly polluting fuels including used tires, plastic refuse, wood scrap, and manure, traditional kilns are a notorious source of urban air pollution. … In practically every city, they constitute a serious health hazard to those living in the impoverished neighborhoods that commonly abut brickyards, as well as to brickmakers themselves.

Many studies of workers in hazardous occupations have found that those who perform the work often deny the hazards of their work. In Mexico one study found a remarkable 89 per cent of los tabiqueros (the brickmakers) believed their health was not at risk.

Brick-Making Industry Conference (2010)

Inter Press Service detailed a workshop that explored methods of reducing the risks from traditional brick kiln operations. Held in the city of Querétaro, the Latin American Artisanal Brickmakers Programme for Energy Efficiency to Mitigate Climate Change (EELA) announced a project that would take place in six South American nations and Mexico that will have as a core objective the reduction of greenhouse-effect gas emissions from ovens used for brick-making. Research is being conducted during the first phase (2010-2013) that will determine the status of the brick-making industry in each country and of the technical improvements that are being tested. Mexico is testing different ovens and fuels during the first phase.

At the completion of Phase 1, the results will be shared to determine the most appropriate technology for each location to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2012: CCAC Guanajuato Conference

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants has launched an initiative aimed at reducing emissions of black carbon, toxins and other pollutants released through traditional brick production. The initiative, led by Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology, together with CACC partners the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development, Climateworks Foundation, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), was launched in the city of Guanajuato, Mexico. The workshop was a first step in CCAC’s effort to put the issue of emissions from inefficient brick production on national governments’ agendas, and to catalyze political engagement and action.

The Coalition, part of the United Nations Environmental Program, seeks major reductions in black carbon, methane and some hydrofluorocarbon emissions. In addition to reducing emissions from brick kilns, the Coalition also seeks to:  reduce methane emissions from municipal waste; promote alternatives to HFCs; and address emissions from the oil and gas industry.

MK2 Kiln and Lack of Adoption in San Miguel

The MK2 ecological kiln built at Parque Ladrillero was designed by scientists at New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) and built with the participation of the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (Chihuahua). A dome in the kiln maximizes heat production while reducing particulate emissions. The MK2 is used by some brick factories in Ciudad Juárez and San Juan del Río (Querétaro), and in the states of San Luis Potosí, Baja California, and Durango.

Atencion (San Miguel) reported that the San Miguel brick makers claimed the new ovens do not work properly and produce gray, rather than red, bricks. The ladrilleros did not understand that the ovens, having been built with raw bricks, must be fired before they can produce the desired product.

Periódico Correo from Guanajuato reported:

De acuerdo al departamento de Ecología del municipio, un 80 por ciento de los ladrilleros ya están convencidos de trasladar sus hornos a ese lugar; sin embargo, ninguno acudió a la primera quema del horno ecológico.

Basically this says that according to the Director of the Department of Ecology for San Miguel, 80 per cent of the brick makers would use the new ovens, but none of them showed up for the test burns.

The MK2 kiln has two ovens, one of which is used for air intake while the second is used to bake. In the view of the brick-makers, only one can be used at a time.

The brick-makers also said that their cost of production would increase due to transporting their material to the Parque Ladrillero – and production would be more complicated as a result of having to move their material every day to the Parque Ladrillero. They also anticipate having to increase the price of their bricks (from the 1,3 pesos per brick reported by Atencion).

[380 ovens operate in Mexico’s brick-making center, El Refugio where the cost of production is 1/13 of a peso and the sale price is 1 peso. In Colombia, the production cost is 1/2 peso per brick and the sales price is 2 pesos per brick.]

It gets more absurd

Gerie Bledsoe, a volunteer with the group Aire Limpio para San Miguel (Clean Air for San Miguel), has written

The city government San Miguel de Allende has developed a new site (the “Parque Industrial”) outside of town for making bricks using highly efficient ovens; however, there is no water or electrical service at the site. The other major problem is: there is no good, clean fuel source for the ovens in this entire area, except for LP gas, and the new ovens are not equipped at this point to burn gas.

He goes on to say that

Most recently, the future of the Parque Industrial has been called into question by a lack of fuel.

So, someone has built a kiln for which there is – at the present time – no fuel.

Then some people began investigating the use of biomass converters at the present kilns; this would have allowed the brick-makers to burn fuel more efficiently and cleanly without having to move their operations. Because Mexico’s forests were long-ago denuded, this option didn’t prove feasible.

In November of 2012 a representative from the office of Mauricio Trejo Pureco, the newly-elected mayor of San Miguel, and the new Director of Ecologia told representatives of Aire Limpio that the new administration’s goal was to finish building the Parque Industrial (by adding two more modern ovens) and to move the firing of bricks out of Nuevo Pantoja. Earlier in January the mayor announced that he plans to resolve the issue by March of 2013. Mayor Pureco is a member of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which also won the presidency in the last election.

The ❤ of the matter

More from the above-mentioned Atencion article, and perhaps here we have the heart of the issue. The brick-makers said:

the relocation will be complicated. They are asking so much from us, but the local government does not even take a look to all of the problems that we have. We do not have potable water in our homes, just two hydrants with water once a week for two hours for 200 families. That is not fair. We don’t have their support.

So, maybe it has nothing to do with the fuel they burn? Why should they do anything? What is their incentive when they feel they are the ignored, the forgotten?

Also, according to Atencion, the ladrilleros have said they have not attended the test firings because they are not interested in the results.

to the rescue … cerveza?

During a visit to the Caribbean, brewer Alfred Heineken saw beaches littered with bottles as well as a lack of affordable building materials. He later engaged Dutch architect John Habraken to create a solution for the two issues. Voila! In 1963 – the year BEFORE the Flushing Meadows World’s Fair – the Heineken WOBO (world bottle), the “brick that holds beer,” was introduced.

Designed to lay horizontally and interlock – presumably when empty – in the same way as ‘brick and mortar’ construction, the WOBO was made in 350 and 500 ml versions. The 1963 production run yielded 100,000 bottles, some of which were used to build a shed on Mr. Heineken’s estate. Despite the success of the project, the Heineken brewery didn’t support the WOBO.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s