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Authorities often are depriving victims of needed lead testing, treatment, and prevention, as stated in a 75-page report researched by New-York based Human Rights Watch released on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The report also stated that the government has failed to force polluting factories to close and clean up contamination despite its high-profile effort to crack down on heavy metals pollution.
Millions of Chinese children suffer from lead poisoning despite a crackdown on contamination, and local officials are systematically withholding the right to medical testing in order to cover up the problem. “Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment, and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.
China has launched a campaign to crack down on lead poisoning, and to clean up contamination. The campaign closed down hundreds of lead-acid battery factories in eastern China’s Zhejiang province after several major pollution cases were brought to attention by state-run media. In the recently reported case, more than 600 people, including 103 children, were reported sickened from tinfoil processing workshops in the Zhejiang town of Yangxunqiao.
All the children and 26 adults suffered from severe lead poisoning. Human Rights Watch’s researchers conducted detailed interviews in heavily contaminated villages in four provinces—Hunan, Henan, Yunnan, and Shaanxi, and found authorities were systematically seeking to silence those who sought help or spoke out. Authorities had even refused testing or given distorted readings to relatives of sick children.
Lead poisoning can damage the nervous, muscular, and reproductive systems. Children are the most at risk because their bodies absorb up to half of what they are exposed, potentially disabling them for life. “Chinese experts are saying lead is one of the leading causes of pediatric health problems,” Amon said. Many parents interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report said that even when their children were confirmed to have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, doctors just advised them to give their children milk or certain types of foods. Parents reported that local police threatened individuals seeking treatment and information, and those trying to protest against polluting factories have been arrested. Even journalists have been intimidated and threatened when trying to report on lead poisoning.
It seems that the Chinese government is falling back on how they have handled other recent health crises, including AIDS, the SARS outbreak in 2003 or the toxic milk scandal of 2008. The first instinct is to deny, conceal and block any further discussion of the problems.
Though this secrecy is not new, it does make it harder for anyone to bring this problem to light without risking their life. Once the problem is exposed, the Beijing government can act swiftly to reduce harm like in the other crises. However, at what stage is the China lead a crisis? How many more children must become sick from the poisoning, refused treatment, and sent home before Chinese government takes an action? Covering up this epidemic is not the solution; they must protect their children.
Image Courtesy of Times Union