Lead Pollution Harms Children

Villagers in southern China say authorities are trying to hide the effects of lead poisoning on their children.

2010.01.05
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lead-poisoning-305.jpg Chinese schoolchildren prepare to take blood tests in China’s Fujian province, Oct. 18, 2006.
AFP

HONG KONG—More than 100 children in a village in southern China have tested positive for elevated lead levels, but local authorities are attempting to cover up the evidence, villagers said Tuesday.

Residents of Hekou village in Jiangsu province said their children became sick as a result of heavy lead pollution from a battery factory located in nearby Yancheng city’s Dafeng Economic Development Zone.

According to local newspaper Xiandai Kuaibao (Modern Express), chief law enforcement officer of the economic zone Zhu Jining said Tuesday that only 51 of the 110 Hekou children had tested positive for elevated lead levels.

A Hekou villager surnamed Zhang, said he is infuriated by Zhu’s statement.

“The number is absolutely wrong ... There are more than 100 sick children, and some are still in hospitals. The officials are hiding the truth, and we have no way to deal with them because there is no one listening to us,” Zhang said.

Villagers said that their children began to show symptoms of lead poisoning last August, including vomiting, lack of appetite, and incessant crying. The concerned parents decided to bring their sick children to Shanghai for medical tests.

“My daughter went to a hospital in Shanghai last November, where she tested positive for high lead levels in her blood. It turned out that in our village, some children have blood lead levels of 200 or 300 micrograms, much higher than the normal volume of 100 micrograms,” Zhang said.

“We all got our tests done in Shanghai because local hospitals were too slow to respond,” Zhang added.

Officials ‘shirking duties’

Zhang said adults also tested positive for high lead levels, but village cadres responded by saying that a higher level government branch would investigate the situation.

“I haven’t seen any investigators coming from above until today,” Zhang said.

Another villager, surnamed Cao, also blasted village officials for shirking their duties.

“I found my child’s vision had deteriorated due to the lead pollution, but village cadres didn’t provide any solutions to our problems.”

Wang Ke is a three-year-old girl among the six children most seriously poisoned by lead. Her father said there are at least 100 sick children in the village.

“There are at least 100 children who have tested positive for elevated lead levels. My daughter has a blood lead level of 399 micrograms, and she is one of the six sickest children,” Wang said.   
   
Villagers said the lead pollution, which has been transmitted through the air, is caused by a battery maker called Shengyuan Electronics Ltd., which began operations in 2007.

Last November, angry villagers blocked the main gate of the factory to protest the pollution and to request compensation for their children’s medical bills.

Following the protest, the Dafeng Economic Development Zone penalized the company by reducing the amount of electricity supplied to the factory. But after only 20 days, production resumed without Shengyuan Electronics making any changes to its manufacturing process.

On Jan. 3, economic zone officials reportedly ordered the battery factory to shut down operations and relocate.

Lead poisoning common

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 past months.

In August last year, at least 2,205 children tested positive for high levels of lead in villages near two smelters in northwestern China's Shaanxi and south-central Hunan provinces, according to state media reports.

Another 200 children were affected in Kunming, the capital of southwest Yunnan province, according to a report by the English-language China Daily. Parents blamed the lead poisoning on a nearby industrial park, although officials denied a direct link.

In May 2008, the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Hunan's Wenping township opened within 500 meters of a primary school, a middle school, and a kindergarten, despite never receiving environmental approval.

Rules require that residents be located outside a 1-km zone.

By the end of August more than 1,300 children were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood.

A new regulation approved by China’s State Council last August requires environmental evaluations of all new development projects in the planning stages. The rule, which took effect in October, provides for more public participation.

Original report by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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