Another lead poisoning case in China

Scott Tong Oct 14, 2009
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Another lead poisoning case in China

Scott Tong Oct 14, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: There’s been another case of lead poisoning in China. More than 900 children living near metal smelters were found with high levels of lead in their blood. Marketplace’s Shanghai correspondent Scott Tong has visited some of these smelters. He joins us now. Good morning Scott.

Scott Tong: Good morning Steve.

Chiotakis: So this latest case. Is this the same story over and over again?

Tong: It sure sounds similar. I mean, all we have now, Steve, is the official government version of the events. What we have is the smelting facilities very close to where people live, and in the latest case this is Hunan province — which is the poor, interior part of China. A large number of kids were found with elevated levels of lead in their blood, and their parents had to make a lot of noise. They protested in front of the factory to get the attention of the local government.

Chiotakis: And why is this lead so much demand?

Tong: Well it’s in your car and mine. Lead-acid batteries are a key source of batteries in new cars and replacement batteries. One nonprofit says every new car has 27 pounds of lead inside it, most of that is in the battery. You take that and pair it with China being the factory — the exporter to the world — we have once again multinational companies that outsource their production to places like China that are cheaper and less regulated. And what also gets outsourced is the smokestacks and the pollution, which is part of the tragedy here in China.

Chiotakis: And it seems, Scott, this is so hard to control. Why is that?

Tong: It’s hard to call these things factories. They’re so small. These are tiny operations in the hillsides. Unless you know where they are, you’ll never find them. And you have local governments that often turn a blind eye to what’s happening here. I mean it’s like a mayor in the U.S., you want the jobs in your neighborhood, so you kind of allow it to happen. In Hunan province where I went and talked to parents about the same kind of story, they said that they don’t trust the government. They think the government is on the side of the industry. So we may be hearing even more stories of this before it gets better Steve.

Chiotakis: All right. Marketplace’s Scott Tong

Tong: OK. Thank you.

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