By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch, Asia
BEIJING, China – Following the discovery of mass lead poisoning among children, Chinese officials are restricting access to available lead testing, altering test results, withholding test results and denying treatment to children who have suffered from exposure to excessive amounts of lead. In addition, those who speak out about the lead poisoning problem are detained, intimidated and harassed by Chinese authorities.
While there is no official figure on the extent of the lead poisoning problem in China, reports by medical experts say that, in many regions, a majority of children have high levels of lead in their blood.
In the most recent case more than 26 adults and 103 children were sickened from tinfoil processing workshops. In the past two and a half years thousands of adults and children have been found to have toxic levels of lead exposure. In one village, Mengxi, 233 adults and 99 children were found to have seven times the amount of lead deemed safe by the Chinese government in their blood. This exposure is largely due to battery and metal factories located throughout the country.
Children are at a significantly higher risk of lead poisoning because their bodies take in up to half of what they encounter in the environment. Lead poisoning can cause children to suffer permanent intellectual, neurological and developmental disabilities.
The mother of a poisoned child stated, “the doctor told us all the children in this village have lead poisoning. Then they told us a few months later that all the children are healthy. They wouldn’t let us see the results from the tests though.”
Many parents have also stated that despite their children being diagnosed with severe lead poisoning, they were told by doctors to just have their child consume various types of food or drink milk. Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch added that “children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages.”
While China has expansive environmental policies, environmental protection officials generally do not have the influence required to compel local government officials to enforce the policies and face substantial resistance when following the policies may hinder economic interests.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, in villages that experience the highest levels of lead poisoning, affected children will need significant assistance to overcame the cognitive and physical impairments caused by lead poisoning.
For more information, please see:
Forbes – Report: China Hushing Up Lead Poisoning Epidemic – 15 June 2011
Fox News – China Downplays Risk to Children from Lead Poisoning, Report Says – 15 June 2011
Human Rights Watch – China: Children Poisoned by Lead and Denied Treatment – 15 June 2011
New York Times – Lead Poisoning in China: The hidden Scourge – 15 June 2011
Radio Free Asia – Lead-Poisoned Children ‘Neglected’ – 15 June 2011