Lead Pollution Hits Fujian

China's latest lead-poisoning scandal has parents staging angry protests.
2009-09-16
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Chinese schoolchildren prepare to take blood tests in China’s Fujian province, Oct. 18, 2006.
Chinese schoolchildren prepare to take blood tests in China’s Fujian province, Oct. 18, 2006.
AFP

HONG KONG—Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Fujian said they would get a team of experts together to test local children’s blood for lead following protests by angry parents outside government offices.

“They are being given checkups just to be on the safe side,” said an official who answered the phone at the Jiaoyang village government in Fujian’s Shanghang county.

“Most have now been sent for testing, and the municipal authorities are gathering a team of experts to carry out the tests,” the official said.

But parents from Jiaoyang and Chongtou villages said their children had shown symptoms of lead poisoning ever since the opening of the Huaqiang Battery Factory in 2006.

Earlier this month, villagers paid for private blood tests, which showed 94 percent of 71 samples sent for testing to have relatively high levels of lead for an adult, while 11.5 percent were over safety limits.

“It’s very serious,” a resident of nearby Tangxia village surnamed Zhou said.

“The primary school kids don’t want to go to school anymore because there is too much pollution. They’ve all switched schools.”

“There was a lot of pollution shown in the blood tests, and the battery factory was affecting Tangxia, Jiaoyang, and Chongtou villages. It was very serious in Chongtou because they are the closest to the factory.”

Calls to close factory

Villagers from the area are now calling on local government officials to close down the factory, to broaden testing to include a wider area, and to give compensation to those affected by the pollution.

“Several thousand people went [to the government offices],” Zhou said.

“It was the mothers and fathers of the primary school children ... they were there for several days.”

Another villager said: “Yes, [the protests] lasted four or five days. They were asking them not to put the factory here.”

The Jiaoyang village official said whether or not children were considered to be over the limit depended on which standards were used.

“The standard we found on the Internet is different from the one set by the Ministry of Health. They say between 100 and 200 micrograms per liter of blood, but on the Internet people say 50 micrograms per liter is unsafe.”

He said that levels of below 200 micrograms per liter were safe for children, whereas levels of below 400 micrograms per liter were considered safe for adults.

“We haven’t had any over these limits,” he said.

Serious response

However, an official surnamed Chen who answered the phone at the Shanghang county environmental protection bureau said some of the children had indeed showed higher-than-normal levels of lead in their blood.

“Some of them were over the limit, with levels of more than 50 or 100 micrograms. This is a fact. Now that the government knows about it, it is taking the matter very seriously.”

“The factory will have to be closed down pending a clean-up of its operations,” he said, adding that a clean-up of the environment within a kilometer radius of the factory would have to take place as well.

Recent lead poisoning cases highlight serious problems of governance in China as authorities struggle to protect citizens and enforce environmental rules, experts say.

Local officials as far apart as Hunan and Shaanxi have promised the closure of privately owned zinc and manganese smelting plants after being hit by a wave of violent clashes between police and angry parents in recent weeks.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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