BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s environmental protection minister has called for more effective measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning, state media said on Thursday, as anger grows among parents with children poisoned by lead.
Incidents of lead poisoning have dogged China’s heavy metal bases in Shaanxi, Hunan, Henan and Yunnan provinces, leading to temporary closures of smelters after protests by parents angry at their children’s illnesses.
Local governments in China are often criticized for lax regulations on heavily polluting plants and mines, which pose health and safety problems but can generate local tax revenue and ensure GDP growth, the main factor in local officials’ promotion.
Following are facts about other safety scandals in China:
- In August, more than 800 children living near a Dongliong Group-run lead smelter in Shaanxi province showed high levels of lead poisoning, with 174 admitted to hospital. Angry that the plant had not been fully shut, parents attacked it on August 17.
- Also in August, 1,354 children living near the Wugang Manganese smelter in Wenping, Hunan, tested positive for high levels of lead in their blood. Villagers there blocked roads to plead for treatment and compensation.
- Some smelters, totaling about 8 percent of national capacity, were closed for checks in Henan and Shaanxi provinces.
- In Dazhai and Yingpan in Yunnan province, about 200 children showed excessive lead in their blood. Parents blame a nearby factory.
- Reuters interviews showed that lead poisoning is common among workers at smelters and in children living near the plants.
- In 2006, 368 people near a lead smelter in Huixian, Gansu province, were found to suffer from excessive lead in their blood. The lead smelting industry there accounted for 80 percent of the local government’s revenue.
- China’s coal mining industry is the world’s deadliest, with average fatalities of just under 10 people a day. Floods, explosions and cave-ins claim more than 3,000 lives a year, often in small, poorly regulated mines.
- The grim fatality rate has pushed the central government to force smaller coal mines to shut or merge and led to a push for better safety procedures and equipment.
- The fatality rate has dropped sharply each of the past three years.
- Six children died and tens of thousands were hospitalized after drinking melamine-tainted baby formula in 2008.
- Melamine, a chemical compound used in fertilizer, had been introduced to poor quality milk to trick protein tests.
- Sanlu, the formula maker, went bankrupt and its executives were jailed. Some milk dealers were executed. The crisis caused other countries to suspend imports of Chinese milk products and led to heavy losses in other Chinese dairy firms.
Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Lucy Hornby and Paul Tait