LEAD Action News
LEAD 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

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Government action on lead poisoning in China

A factsheet by Kobe He, Intern, The LEAD Group Inc, Australia, February 2010

Attempts of Chinese governments to prevent and manage lead poisoning

Smelters have been shut down for environmental checks

At least three lead smelters in Henan province, and two in Shanxi province, with a combined capacity of more than 6% of China’s annual production, were ordered to temporarily halt operations in recent days after hundreds of children tested for high levels of lead in two separate cases in August (Yam, 2009).

Promised testing and medical treatment for lead-poisoned children

Officials announced to concerned residents that all children in Qingyuan would be given access to blood testing and prompt treatment to address the growing problem of lead poisoning. Qingyuan, located next to an industrial park containing a battery factory, shocked health and environmental officials earlier this year when blood testing of about 50 families revealed 44 children with elevated blood lead levels, including one ten-month old with a level as high as 55 µg/dL, several times above the safety limit for blood lead levels (Greenlaw, 2009).

Measurements from announcement of the Central government

In response to the Fengxiang and Wugang incidents, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) approved in principle a draft “Implementation Plan for the Comprehensive Handling of Heavy Metal Pollution,” on August 28, 2009. One month later, on September 29, 2009, MEP announced that it would – along with eight other ministries or bureaus– commence a three-month nation-wide campaign to investigate enterprises that involve significant amounts of heavy metals (lead and cadmium etc.) in production, storage or transport processes (Greenlaw, 2009).

Guangzhou Maritime Court orders tannery to pay 62,500 RMB in compensation

The Dongtai tannery in Panyu District of Guangzhou was ordered to pay 62,500 RMB in compensation for damages from several incidents of illegal waste water release in 2008, bringing another environmental public interest litigation case to a close. The factory’s illegal discharges were uncovered by investigators in July 2008 following complaints from local residents about red-colored water. The Panyu District procuratorate then brought the case before the Guangzhou Maritime Court, arguing that the tannery was responsible for thousands of yuan in damages to local agriculture, ecology, and public health (Greenlaw, 2009).

Chinese minister calls for action to stop lead poisoning

China's environmental protection minister has called for more effective measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning, state media said on Thursday, as anger grows amongst parents with children poisoned by lead. China, which has already set a target of closing 600,000 tons of outdated lead capacity in the next few years, plans to send inspectors to major lead producing provinces for environment checks, industry sources said (Chan, 2009).

Action required by the government in China for children’s elevated blood lead levels

The following paragraphs are taken from a document published by MOH (Ministry of Health) China (9th Feb 2006), [with minimal editing, for clarity. Ed].

Diagnosis and classification

Plumbism and lead poisoning in children, high lead blood lead levels of children should be the basis for diagnosis. High lead plumbism: two consecutive blood lead level of 10 ~ 19.9 µg/dL [micrograms per tenth of a litre]; Plumbism: two consecutive blood lead levels equal to or greater than 20 µg/dL; and based on blood lead levels were divided into mild, moderate and severe lead poisoning. Mild lead poisoning: blood lead level of 20 ~ 24.9 µg/dL; Moderate lead poisoning: blood lead level of 25 ~ 44.9 µg/dL; Severe lead poisoning: blood lead levels equal to or greater than 45 µg/dL;

Regulations for Children: Plumbism

Children with high blood lead levels should be managed for lead poisoning at medical and health institutions qualified to conduct such treatment. Medical personnel should assist in the process of complying with environmental interventions, health education and treatment utilizing the basic principles of removing lead from patients’ bodies, help identify lead sources of pollution, inform the children's guardians as soon as possible regarding the sources of pollution from lead; give health guidance that is suitable for various situations, explain how nutrition helps to correct lead poisoning. Children should be treated appropriately and in a timely manner.

Doctors are advised to carry out blood lead testing on children diagnosed with learning difficulties and autism

(In the United States, in just one of many strategies to achieve the US national Healthy People target, set in 2000, that no child between the ages of 1 to 6 years in the US should have a blood lead level higher than 10 µg/dL by 2010, all state and local health departments were, on 7th August 2009, recommended to increase the rate of blood lead screening of at-risk children under 6 years of age. In some government agencies in the US, the follow-up (search for sources) blood lead level has been set at 5 µg/dL. For instance, “Understanding Your Child’s Lead Test” by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS), states: “parents should take steps to identify possible sources of lead in their child’s environment in order to prevent any further exposure” [if the blood lead level is 5 µg/dL or higher] (O’Brien and Xu, 2009).)

Give central environmental officials stronger authority and resources to step in when local governments fail to regulate

To break up local protectionism, China’s central environmental authorities need sufficient legal authority and resources (human and financial) to intervene in a sustained way in areas where local governments fail to fulfill their legal duties. The MEP’s authority should be expanded (even beyond its recent elevation to full ministry status). Such a move would be critical in addressing the types of heavy metal incidents that have been filling the headlines in recent months.

Tie government officials’ career prospects more closely to reduction of heavy metal pollution

China has had relatively good success with its total emissions control (TEC) system, which for now sets volume reduction targets for emissions of sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand (COD), a measure of water pollution.  Part of its success is the incorporation of pollution reduction targets into government official job evaluations.  This has the impact of focusing the minds of officials, even at the lowest levels of the system.  This is one of those systems with “unique Chinese characteristics” and its strengths should be harnessed in the name of controlling heavy metal pollution as well.

Disclose emissions to the public

This is perhaps the simplest measure government can take to help reduce pollution.  Information disclosure can assist overburdened enforcement officials by driving enterprises to reduce their own pollution, empowering the public to monitor local polluters and providing other stakeholders (like banks and corporate purchasers) with the tools to channel business away from bad environmental actors.  China has already moved in this direction, and expanding use of information as a regulatory tool is low-hanging fruit for pollution reduction.

Establish serious penalties for data falsification and illegal operations

When companies provide false data to the government, this weakens the very foundation of the environmental regulatory system.  Yet, penalties for lying to the government and obstructing inspections are extremely low (capped at around US$7,000 in China’s water pollution law, with no criminal penalties, for example).  There should be criminal liability for intentionally lying about environmental data or obstructing government inspection work.  Moreover, many enterprises often begin operations without going through basic registration and environmental impact assessment procedures.  This makes it more difficult for authorities to regulate these entities and leaves some of the worst polluters out of the scope of environmental regulation.  Stronger penalties and enforcement authorities (such as the ability to attach personal liability to company officials) should be put in place for such behaviour.

Ramp-up the monitoring network

There is an urgent need to establish an effective ambient air monitoring network for pollutants with ambient air quality standards.  Without a monitoring network continuously measuring air quality in population centers and near priority pollution sources, the air quality standards in place provide little protection to those who most need them.  In addition, the monitoring data will provide an important check against fraudulent pollution reports that may be filed by large emitters.  China has already invested much in this and is planning to expand its nation-wide monitoring network.  The need to ramp-up quickly is more urgent than ever now.

Develop a comprehensive approach to responding to pollution incidents

The response to pollution incidents should be expanded to incorporate the full-range of tools for reducing health risk from heavy metal pollution, including human and environmental sampling, emergency response activities, environmental remediation, exposure reduction, and human health protection measures.  These tools should be established on the polluter pays principle, but provide the resources for governmental agencies to act immediately and seek reimbursement later if the polluter is unwilling or unable to react immediately and responsibly.  China is using some, but not all, of these tools now and work can be done to make the response system more robust and more standardized around the country.


Yam, Polly. Lead poisoning haunts Chinese smelter communities. August 2009

Greenlaw. Lead-poisoned Children of Qingyuan promised testing and medical treatment. December 2009

Greenlaw. More Heavy Metal Mania: another China pollution round-up. October 2009.

Greenlaw. Guangzhou Maritime Court orders tannery to pay 62,500 RMB in compensation. December 2009.

Chan, Royston. Chinese minister calls for action to stop lead poisoning. September 2009.

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