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
Prevalence and pathways and sources of lead poisoning in China
By Kobe He, Tony
Yan, Ewan MacAulay
McDonnell, and Elizabeth O’Brien,
Is Lead a problem in China? What is the evidence?
China is, at 1.32 Billion, the world's most populous nation (CIA World Factbook). However, in a World Health Organization report, only 31,000 deaths are estimated as due to lead poisoning in the region that includes China. Either lead is not a major health issue in China, or the deaths are under-estimated by WHO. The evidence listed below shows that it is probably more likely the second reason (Fewtrell, 2009).
Blood lead levels of people in China - Studies conducted
One study shows that 202 Chinese women tested in 4 different major Chinese cities had, on average, blood lead levels of 5.67 micrograms per decilitre (μg/dL), which is equivalent to 56.7 micrograms per litre (μg/L). By comparison, Japanese women had levels of 3.21 μg/dL (32.1 μg/L). The report concluded that the source of contamination was food and air. (Zhang et al 1997)
In 1996, Shen et al summarised that seventeen publications have reported elevated blood lead levels in children from different areas of China. Lead levels tested in children residing in busy and heavily trafficked areas in the PRC (China), showed blood lead (BPb) levels of a staggering 21.8-67.9 μg/dL. The percentages of BPb values above 10 μg/dL - which is the 1992 World Health Organization's definition of lead poisoning in children - ranged from 64.9% to 99.5%. Even for ‘unexposed’ children, about 50% of them had BPb values above 10 μg/dL (Shen et al, 1996). Air pollution is out of control in China as a result of rapid industrialisation. When this summary was written in May 1995, lead was still used in petrol. Leaded petrol was officially phased out in 2000. (Xiao, 2008)
Another study shows that for children 1-5 years of age in Wuxi City, the average blood lead level was 8.2 μg/dL (0.40 μmol/L); 27.3% had blood lead levels above10 μg/dL, and 1.0% had blood lead levels above 20 μg/dL. Blood lead levels were particularly high in industrial areas, suggesting an air pollution link again. (Gao, 2008)
A 2008 study shows that Chinese men have higher lead levels for some reason (possibly from a higher prevalence of smoking among men than women); even men who don’t have an occupational reason for higher lead exposure. The average in Jinan City, Shandong, in 1991 was 9.23 μg/dL for non-smokers to 12.34 μg/dL for smokers (Qu, 2004). According to The China Post, (7 June 2010), smoking rates in China are 574% for men and 2.6% for women.
Newborn babies can be born with high lead levels, as lead is transferred from their mothers. A study of the blood lead levels of newborn babies was conducted in Shanghai in 1993 (Shen et al, 1993). In 348 cord samples, the geometric mean of cord BPb levels was 9.2 μg/dL, with a 95% confidence interval of the mean 8.86-9.54 μg/dL. 142 babies (40.8%) had cord BPb levels of 10 μg/dL or greater. Among the likely sources, foodstuffs such as Pidan (preserved Duck egg) is reputed to have a high lead content, and is eaten by pregnant women. This is old research, suggesting that the lead content, with China’s increasing industrialisation, is probably even greater now, 15 years later.
One example that has gained national attention is a factory near Xinsi. In an isolated village in the mountains of China's western Gansu province, BPb levels in the children were found to range from 30.4 to 79.8 μg/dL. (Oster and Spencer, 2001).
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally, lead poisoning accounts for 229,000 deaths from cardio-vascular disease (CVD) per year. In China, 38.5% of children and 31.8% of adults are estimated to have more than enough lead exposure for an increased risk of early death by heart attack or stroke.” (WHO, 2003).
A more recent study (2006), “Blood lead levels in Children, China” which combines the data from a number of blood lead studies, states that blood lead levels in children on average are now 9.29 μg/dL and 33.8% have blood lead levels above 10 μg/dL. The worst affected province was Shanxi, where levels were recorded as high as 17.25 μg/dL on average. There was a linear relationship found in Shanghai of lead attached to particles in the air and blood lead levels (Wang and Zhang, 2006).
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