Shanghai Parents Battle Pollution

Residents of China's largest city say waste from a battery plant is making them sick.
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In an undated photo, a Pudong district resident displays dust they say was emitted by a nearby battery plant.
In an undated photo, a Pudong district resident displays dust they say was emitted by a nearby battery plant.

Residents of Shanghai's Pudong district, whose gleaming skyscrapers and financial buildings have become an icon of a rising China, say their children are being poisoned by lead emissions from a nearby battery plant.

"There is a battery factory very close to us," said a resident of Pudong's Kangqiao township surnamed Lu. "Every day they smelt lead powder and the smoke often billows out in thick white clouds."

"There is a very bad smell and the lead powder has contaminated our food and water," Lu said. "We have been to the government to tell them about this and they say that the factory has a waste permit."

Lu said a group of families from Kanghua New Village had already had their children tested for lead poisoning, with many showing moderate-to-high levels of lead in their blood.

Further tests were now being carried out, organized by local officials, at the city's Xinhua Hospital on Wednesday, he said.

"A lot of parents took their kids for testing this morning, and they say the results will be out within the week," Lu said.

He said families living on Kangfu Old Street and Shuangxiu Beiyuan were also getting tested.

"Some of those kids from over there had levels as high as 300," Lu said, referring to the number of micrograms of lead per liter of blood.

Children at risk

Brain development can be affected in children who have as little as 100 micrograms of lead per liter of blood.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can result in neurological, liver, and kidney impairment, as well as anemia, convulsions, coma, and death.

High levels of lead exposure can cause permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities, including reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing loss, attention problems, and disruption in the development of visual and motor functioning.

Chinese environmental regulations dictate that no battery plant should be built within a radius of 500 meters from residential communities.

A second resident of Kanghua New Village surnamed Yang said her three-year-old son had tested with moderate-to-high lead levels, but then a second test administered by the Xinhua Hospital had come back normal.

"After my kid got a second test, the levels had returned to normal," Yang said, adding that she had her suspicions about its accuracy.

"The test slip was handwritten, so it could easily be changed," Yang said. "My main fear is that the test result is false and then that will waste time my child could be using to get treatment."

Yang said her son had recently been very lethargic, and that the whole family was very worried about him.

Official complaint

Parents of affected children have already been to township-level government to complain about the problem, but officials had done no more than promise to relay their concerns to a higher level of government, villagers said.

Yang said the villagers were calling on the authorities to investigate the cause of their children's illnesses and to pay for medical treatment.

An official who answered the phone at the Kangqiao township government said parents worried about their children's health had been sent along to a "relevant" hospital for testing.

"We have already issued a notice about this, telling them to go to the hospital and get a second test," the official said. "But I don't know the results of those tests, and we have had no new instructions."

Calls to the nearby battery plant in Kangfu New Village went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

Battery makers and lead and zinc smelting plants have been blamed for a wave of lead poisoning cases in many parts of China in recent years.

Activists say that China has an exemplary set of environmental protection legislation, but that environmental officials lack the power to impose it on powerful vested interests at local level.

Chinese children who suffer lead poisoning as a result of industrial pollution are frequently sent back to live in contaminated environments and are refused treatment, according to a June report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Local officials often prevent the children from getting the care they need, and intimidate and detain parents who complain, the report said.

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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