LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 11 Number 3, June 2011, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times (ISSN 1440-4966) & Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor: Anne Roberts

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Editorial: China looms large

By Anne Roberts

Two LEAD Group student interns from Macquarie University    Russell Ng and Hannah Beedham – have tackled the question of lead poisoning in China, and this is the major article in this edition of Lead Action News.

Under China’s “12th Five-Year Plan to Combat Heavy-Metal Pollution” for the period 2011-2015, the government aims to reduce the use of the heavy metals lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and arsenic.

It also seems that the central government of China has tightened some environmental regulations, which ought to have resulted in reduced levels of lead and other pollution. However, China is so vast, the population so huge (world leader, with over 1.3 billion), and economic development is taking place so quickly, that the safety of workers and residents can sometimes come second. As BBC news reports, “most analysts agree the centre has lost some control over the regions in the past two decades, especially in the economic field.” It was reported in the China Daily, and referred to in an article on China’s latest 12 year plan in the June issue of The Monthly, that almost 60% of respondents in a poll put corruption among government officials as their most significant concern. Premier Wen Jiabao also described corruption as China’s biggest danger, because it weakens the effectiveness of the national government.

 Ng and Beedham discuss some of the many instances of mass poisoning from lead and other heavy metals in China.

China is going through what England experienced, first in the late 18th century, then again from about 1830, but enormously speeded up and on a larger scale. Reformers and the working class in England had to struggle for safer working conditions. In western countries - formerly known as ‘developed countries’ - vigilance is still necessary. Greed, corruption and sheer recklessness are not geographically confined. Campaigns in the West against toxic pollution are on-going and probably increasing, as more becomes known about the full impacts of pollutants. In China, as elsewhere, however, it’s not always about greed, corruption, and recklessness. Sometimes it’s lack of knowledge about the danger, and people are needlessly exposed, just as they are in Australia.

Ng and Beedham discuss potential sources of lead poisoning in China, which include some favourite foods and traditional medicines. Disposal of e-waste is a problem, and this includes batteries used by the increasingly popular e-bikes.

China’s 12 year plan will, if successful, shift its economy from exporting cheap manufactured goods into supplying the domestic market, raising wages, and shifting many millions of workers into service industries.  The intention is also to lift wages in manufacturing, and encourage people to spend some of the up to 50% of their incomes that they currently save (and lend to the rest of the world), on locally-produced manufactured goods and on services. This transformation will surely encourage a larger proportion of the population to demand more control of pollution.

China is expanding its influence: for example, industrial and economic incursions into Burma - where the local population is in no position to demand either better working conditions or control of pollution.

Lead pollution in China featured in an earlier newsletter: LANv10n3

Ng and Beedham have also contributed a smaller article which adds to the debate over whether breastfeeding should be discouraged in cases where lead in  breast milk can elevate infant blood lead levels Breastfeeding wins - sorry to tell you how the story ends -but those mothers who can not or choose not to breastfeed for various reasons, can take measures to protect their infant from lead poisoning.

The Toxic and Heavy Metals Taskforce, Tasmania (THMTT) returns with three articles on the dispute about Rosebery, a small mining town on the west coast of Tasmania, which has previously featured in two previous LANs: LAN v10n4 and LAN V11n2.

We reproduce the correspondence from The LEAD Group regarding its proposals about Blood Lead Levels in Australia, which were rejected by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC), and The LEAD Group’s reply to NHMRC.

Finally, a call for sponsorship of a poster for display in hardware stores, to alert people intending to renovate, of the dangers of lead, and what to do about it, and the offer of a free booklet.

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