Action News vol 10 no 3, June 2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Anne Roberts
Lead Poisoning News from China, January 2010
Compiled by Natalie Newman, Intern
China’s poor track record of lead poisoning due to factory pollution continues, with news recently of 55 children and 47 adults suffering lead poisoning in Hekou village, Jiangsu. The village is situated close to a lead-acid battery factory; there have now been six similar lead poisoning incidents in the past six months across the country.
January 2010 – Hekou, Jiangsu - Dafeng Shengxiang Power Supply Co Ltd
The factory at Hekou village had been operating at 160% capacity, but workers claim that managers were tipped off about visits from environment officers in advance, allowing them time to ‘clean up’ for the inspection. The government department in charge of organizing environmental checks has so far refused to comment.
Workers have been routinely treated for lead poisoning, and as long as treatment continued were willing to stay silent. They now fear their silence has lead to the hospitalization of village children. There are also concerns that doctors at Dafeng People’s Hospital misrepresented the safe levels of blood-lead.
December 2009 – Qingyuan, Guangdong – Aokelai Power Co. Ltd, (Zeliang Battery Factory)
In December, a lead-acid battery factory near Qingyuan, Guangdong, was forced to shut down after 44 local children were found to have high blood-lead levels. The children were treated at the government’s expense. The factory was situated less than 100 metres from a residential apartment building.
September 2009 – Shanghang, Fujian – Huaqiang Battery Factory
In Shanghang, Fujian, 121 children under 14 years of age were found to have excessive blood-lead levels. Local parents say their children have been suffering from symptoms since a battery factory opened in 2006. (Huaqiang Battery Factory). Residents protested for four days, demanding government officials close down the factory, increase testing and pay compensation to affected families.
August 2009 – Wugang, Hunan – Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant
Parents and police violently clashed in August in Wugang, Hunan after 1,956 children were found with high blood-lead levels, due to the close proximity of a manganese smelting plant to a school. Fifteen residents were detained for rioting and protesting over the smelter, which had been operating for a year without environmental approval. The owner of the factory turned himself into police, after claims were made that he had abused his position as Deputy to the People’s Congress to illegally run the smelter. Two government officials were also investigated.
August 2009 – Fengxiang, Shaanxi – Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co
Following the discovery in August that 615 children were affected by lead poisoning, 11 officials from Fengxiang, Shaanxi, were reprimanded for failing to protect the local environment. The suspected source was a smelting factory, the manager of which has now resigned. Local villagers will be relocated from the area over the next two years.
August 2009 – Kunming, Yunnan – car exhaust emissions (cited cause)
Near Kunming, Yunnan, 200 of 1000 children tested were found to have high blood-lead levels, with three children confirmed as suffering from lead poisoning. Parents blame a nearby industrial park, but the environment bureau claims that other factors, such as exhaust emissions, are the real cause.
In total, 3000 children have been affected across China in the six months prior to January this year.
In all of these cases, final decisive action came only when high numbers of children were found to have excessive blood-lead levels. Yet, local residents had complained for months and even years about sickness, pollutants, sewage, bad smells and dust. China’s expansive and swift economic rise has seen local governments, keen to attract businesses and investors to their area, willing to ignore environmental and health concerns. Often, lead-acid battery factories and smelting factories aren’t considered “major” polluters, and environmental checks can be less strictly enforced. Manganese smelters illegally use anode slag, which contains lead.
Environmental protection agencies are funded by local governments, which are not keen to ensure the agencies are funded well enough to do their jobs. Lack of staff training and poor resources mean that environmental agencies simply cannot be on top of every environmental disaster waiting to happen.
Even when environmental concerns are considered, the local government’s response is usually to find sites suitable for factories, and then relocate villagers to other areas. But this doesn’t always solve the problem, as villagers still till fields and raise crops in areas very close to polluting factories. In a country with more than a billion people, the profit margin is placed ahead of people’s health. But with a growing environmental consciousness, Chinese people are starting to protest, not just for their health, but for the future of their children.
Northwest and Central China is rich in metals, which require large factories to process.
It is often a requirement for factories to help local families to relocate within a certain timeframe. But in most cases, only a small percentage of families are actually moved by the specified time, and the rest cannot afford to do so on their own.
In August 2009, at the height of the poisonings, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) called on the country to fight heavy metal pollution, yet the Ministry of Propaganda asked news outlets to play down the poisoning stories in the lead-up to the National Day holidays. But the government is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the mass protests and riots by ordinary citizens concerned about the health of their children, their farmlands and their future.
More recently, Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian released a paper calling on the need for China to move towards an “ecological civilization”:
Ecological civilization is the summary of physical, spiritual and institutional achievements of human beings when they develop and utilize natural resources while taking initiatives to protect nature and actively improve the relations between man and nature. Traditional industrial civilization leads to the conflicts between man and nature, and imposes a serious threat to the survival and development of mankind itself. Adhering to the idea and requirement for sustainable development, ecological civilization makes overall arrangement of the relations between environmental protection and economic growth in terms of human civilization.
(Actively Develop Ecological Civilization--Published in Qiushi Magazine by Minister Zhou Shengxian, 10-12-2009. Source: http://english.mep.gov.cn/)
The Implementation Plan on Controlling Heavy Metal Pollution was passed in principle by the MEP on Aug 28. It demands joint measures by all the relevant departments to avoid further pollution, yet to be approved by State Council.
“On September 29, 2009, MEP announced that it would - along with eight (8) other ministries or bureaus** - commence a three-month nation-wide campaign to investigate enterprises that involve significant amounts of heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and arsenic) in production, storage or transport processes.” - http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/awang/more_heavy_metal_mania_another.html
In a case of double-speak: “When asked
by China Daily whether it is safe to build waste incineration plants in
residential areas, Zhang said incinerators will not affect people's health or
pollute the environment if they are built according to government guidelines.”
"It's quite obvious that just to say the company has not been found by regulatory agencies to violate standards, which I assume are concentration standards, is not enough," said environmental activist Ma Jun, referring to a case in Shaanxi province where a local environmental bureau said smelter owner Dongling Group had met emissions standards.
"It's quite obvious that the environment cannot absorb the volume," Ma said. He recommended restrictions on total volume of emissions, not just the level of emissions.
(China calls for action to stop lead poisoning, www.reuters.com/article/idUSSP56473)
New factories and smelters are subject to stricter environmental controls, but ones that have been operating for years are harder to regulate. However; as massive power shortages across China were forcing smelters to shut down until the end of February, this may have allowed time to address environmental concerns.
In the USA, Website Acton reports that the cost of testing toys for lead in has forced some small manufacturers to move their business offshore, while increased scrutiny of Chinese made products has had some factories opting to swap lead for cadmium. There are calls in the US to strike a balance between the need to ensure products are free from dangerous heavy metals and the needs of small businesses to have transparent cost-effective compliance codes.
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