China Turns Blind Eye to Lead Poisoning in Children: Human Rights Watch
In a stinging report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the organization alleges that Chinese children living in four of the most polluted provinces in China are being exposed to toxic levels of lead in the environment, and denied access to lead testing and medical treatment. HRW claims that Chinese citizens and journalists seeking access to information about lead poisoning testing are being harassed and intimidated.
HRW’s recently published report on lead poisoning draws upon research from heavily contaminated villages in the Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Hunan provinces of China. Many areas of China have concentrated heavy industry, with corresponding emissions rate to match. Despite Chinese government assertions that pollution regulation has been enacted nationwide, enforcement remains spotty at best. Environmental Protection Ministry officials have become more outspoken in their intention to police factory owners who ignore emissions standards. Despite this supposed environmental vigilance, no regulation has been enacted to protect the most vulnerable of the Chinese population from the damaging effects of lead in the environment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), lead poisoning accounts for 0.6% of the global burden of disease. Lead poisoning is also entirely preventable. Chronic, low level exposure to lead was once considered safe. It is now known that ongoing exposure to lead causes major, irreversible damage to a child’s nervous system and developing brain. Children suffer from impaired intellectual development, shortened attention spans and disruptions in behavior. These changes are known to be immutable, resulting in permanent, lifelong disability. For this reason, efforts to eradicate lead poisoning are of paramount importance.
Chinese children are being exposed to levels of lead in the environment which would be considered unacceptable in the Western world. Parents seeking testing for their children for lead poisoning are being routinely refused by local government officials. Even in cases where parents are able to obtain lead poisoning tests for their sick children, results are often withheld. Parents seeking to obtain medical treatment for their ailing children are often stonewalled and told to bring their children home. Seven individuals in Hunan province were arrested for attempting to access treatment for their children with suspected lead poisoning.Continued on the next page