Mexican Exposures

Mexican Exposures (MEXPOS)


Project Summary

Mexican Exposures (MEXPOS) brings together medical anthropologists, environmental health scientists and environmental engineers to arrive at a better understanding of the larger histories, life circumstances, and environments that shape health, disease, and inequality in Mexico City.  Through several collaborative projects, our aim is to ask and answer complex questions that cannot be answered through only one form of methodological expertise alone.  Our approach is bioethnographic: meaning we join different methodological bundles—ethnographic observation and biochemical sampling—in a synthetic, symmetrical analysis.  MEXPOS involves researchers and data from the longitudinal environmental health project ELEMENT (Early Life Exposures in Mexico to ENvironmental Toxicants).  With this longitudinal data, combined with new multi-disciplinary research our teams investigates environment-body interactions as always relational, contingent, and constructed phenomena.

In 1994, a team of U.S.-based environmental health researchers partnered with public health investigators in Mexico to form ELEMENT. The project aimed to study the effects of chemical exposures, particularly lead, on fetal and childhood growth and neurological development in Mexico City, then designated by the United Nations as the most polluted on earth. Since then, ELEMENT project staff have collected samples of blood, urine, hair, toenails, breast milk, and teeth for ongoing molecular analysis from nearly 2,000 participants, mostly working-class mother-child pairs recruited through public clinics in Mexico City.  Under the direction of PI Karen Petersen ELEMENT has expanded its focus to collect data on additional toxicants (e.g., bisphenol A, mercury, fluoride, phthalates), and new health concerns, especially those related to high rates of diabetes and obesity and premature sexual maturation, using new methods (metabolomics, GWAS, epigenetics).

In the fall of 2012, Mexican Exposures Project P.I. Elizabeth Roberts began working with ELEMENT researchers at the University of Michigan and researchers project participants and staff in Mexico City. In 2014–2015 Roberts began an intensive ethnographic study of six ELEMENT participant families living in two geographically distinct working-class neighborhoods in Mexico City, focusing on household and neighborhood environments and geopolitical processes relevant to the production of bodily states. The ethnographic data from this longitudinal study forms the basis for Roberts and her anthropological team’s bioethnographic collaboration with ELEMENT researchers.


Elizabeth FS Roberts

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