SEATTLE, Washington — Lead is commonly known as a toxicant that can be present in different environments, particularly in developing countries. Lead poisoning is a serious health concern because it can be widely circulated into the atmosphere. Lead can accumulate in dust and is commonly found in areas with lead mining, battery recycling and gasoline. These areas are generally found in places with poor infrastructure and overcrowded factories. In particular, lead poisoning in China raises health concerns for the nation.
China’s Current Health Concern: Lead Poisoning
For years, China has been the world’s number one producer of lead, producing approximately 2.6 million tons per year. This is accounted for by factories that create lead-acid batteries for motorcycles, bikes and cars. In fact, the motor industry is predicted to grow by 20% every year, substantially increasing the risk of lead poisoning amongst many factory workers. As of now, China has over 2,000 factories and over 1,000 battery plants that are perpetuating the risks of lead exposure.
In particular, children are more susceptible to lead poisoning. Typically, a healthy dosage of lead in the blood supply is 10-15 µg/dL. However, a recent study conducted in Shaanxi—one of the villages with the most amount of lead exposure—concluded that some of the children have absorbed higher than 25 µg/dL concentration of lead in their bloodstream. Additionally, researchers found that more than half of the children living in the village were victims of lead poisoning due to contamination and environmental pollutants.
Holding Factories Accountable
In 2011 over 200 people rioted over the Zhejiang Haijiu Battery Factory, a factory that was notorious for violating environmental precautions. In fact, over 300 people—including children—were poisoned by the lead exposure from the factory. Zhou Zhuyin, a factory worker, said he needed to be hospitalized every four years due to the poor ventilation he experienced. Around the same time, Mexngi Village also showed high amounts of lead poisoning, with 494 victims.
Actions Being Taken to Minimize Lead Exposure
As China’s economy started improving in 2015, especially when its GDP rose to 7.7% from the previous year, President Xi Jinping made it one of his primary goals to establish a “war on pollution” in China. In fact, he wants to shut down over 50,000 coal-burning power plants that emit over 15 million kilowatts. In addition, he is persistent in removing high-emission motor vehicles and enacting energy-saving initiatives.
Despite the government’s role in lowering environmental pollutants in China, many NGO projects have also taken the initiative to care for their communities’ safety. For example, the China Chemical Safety Project focuses on serving communities affected by emission-relation pollutions. By training with the Environmental Impact Assessment, they have done case studies in seven provinces in China that are affected by metals, wastes and chemicals. For example, their case study in Liyang shown that over 1.3 million people are affected by the metal pollutants in drinking water. Further, they highlight industrial companies, such as the Qihua PVC Plant, as being some of the largest pollutants in China.
Although progress has been relatively low thus far, the government and NGOs are trying to tackle the large environmental hazards in China. As the government imposes more laws and regulations on companies and factories, communities—especially factory workers—are protected by the pollutants emitted, such as lead. With these steps, there is hope for China to become more sustainable in the future.
– Aishwarya Thiyagarajan