Friday, September 4, 2009

Not for the People

Another serious issue regarding children is exploding and the Chinese government is doing all it can to quash it.
Children in China are suffering from severe levels of lead in their blood. The average blood lead concentration of children on the mainland is about 90 micrograms, many times higher than in developed countries, according to Dai Yaohua, professor of the Capital Institute of Paediatrics in Beijing and a leading scientist in the research of child lead poisoning.
A few weeks ago hundreds of parents stormed a lead smelting plant in Shaanxi Province after nearly all the children, over 600 of them out of 700 in neighbouring villages, were found to have excessive lead poisoning that was 10 times over the level considered safe by the Chinese government.
Later it was also found about 30 percent of children under 14 in Yunnan Province were suffering from some degree of lead poisoning.  
It doesn't matter if the child is in an urban or rural area, rich or poor -- all of them have high levels of lead in their blood. Unlike most poisons, once lead is absorbed into the body, it does not leave. And this results in less room for other more beneficial minerals like zinc and calcium for healthy bodies to grow.
Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems, cause high blood pressure, anemia and memory loss. Another is that lead poisoning in children can cause their IQ levels to drop. A study led by Bruce Lanphear of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center tested more than 1,300 children from developing and developed countries.
He and his researchers found that even at levels far below 100 micrograms, lead-poisoned children scored about eight points lower than their non-poisoned peers. Their ability to read and listen were most affected.
"Even by traditional standards, the prevalence of lead poisoning on the mainland is high," Dai said. "Most children whose nervous systems have been eroded have not received any attention. Lots of research has found that brain damage caused by lead during childhood is permanent. The key is prevention."
However exposure to lead is everywhere. Previously families couldn't afford to paint their homes, but during the housing boom in the past 20 years, children were exposed to lead-based paints. In the 1970s, the United States started banning lead in gasoline -- China only started doing this in 2000. And because lead is heavy, traces of it can still be found on roadsides for years. Lead can also be found in food and toys. 
Professor Dai says all children in China under three should be tested for lead; if there are excessive amounts found in certain areas, the local authorities should locate it and eliminate it.
Ding Zongyi, president of the Federation of Paediactric Nutrition Organizations of Asia says lead poisoning is a public health issue that not only affects children.
"In some cases, I'm afraid there will be no adults fit to enlist in the army, and the labour force will take a big hit. If you are lead poisoned, you don't necessarily have to stay in bed, but your strength and skills will deteriorate."
However, the Ministry of Health will not take up this recommendation of testing children. Testing a child costs between 60RMB to 200RMB, which means the treasury would have to spend billions of yuan.
"The Communist Party will not bring it up either," says a researcher working with Dai who refused to be named. "If parents see the test results and are told that their children will suffer brain damage, they'll take to the streets."
In the meantime parents are advised to keep their children safe from lead by keeping off roads and buying lead-free toys and goods.
However, with the way China's quality system not exactly reliable in terms of identifying which goods are safe and which aren't, people are still left wondering if the government will ever protect them.
With the milk scandal last year that sickened many babies and children, the Sichuan earthquake where thousands of children died in unsafe schools, and now children poisoned by lead, parents are angry. Very angry.
If Beijing does not properly address these issues, these people will continue to fight because their only child was killed or sickened under the government's watch.
Parents only want the best for their children and their own government won't even help them by providing a safe environment for the next generation.

1 comment:

ks said...

education, public awareness and universal standardization are in order.