Human Rights Watch makes the accusation after releasing a report that shows that local authorities in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Hunan tampered with medical tests to hide the problem. Even so, medical care is not enough in villages that are contaminated.
Beijing (AsiaNews/HRW) – Provincial authorities in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Hunan “have imposed arbitrary limits on access to blood lead testing; refused appropriate treatment to children and adults with critically high lead levels” and “withheld and failed to explain test results showing unaccountable improvements in lead levels”. What is more, “Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages”.
China’s rapid industrialisation is coming with a heavy price on the environment. Many areas are permanently polluted. In the past few years, blood lead poisoning has become a serious problem, especially for children, whose growth and mental development become permanently stunted.
It a report titled “My Children Have Been Poisoned – A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces,” HMW provides documentary evidence of the problem.
The picture is one of utter neglect. The authorities pay no attention to the consequences of industrial development, both short- and long-term, and lead poisoning, so much so that they refuse to conduct studies near polluting plants or provide health care treatment for residents near sources of pollution.
“If there's really going to be attention and response to the sources of the lead poisoning there needs to be a way the Chinese people can bring the issue up to local officials or journalists, without facing intimidation, harassment and detention,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.
Series of medical tests on the same patients show in fact contradictory results, indicating possible tampering.
In recent years, China has been hit by many lead poisoning scandals affecting entire communities. Just this month, more than 600 people in Shaoxing County in the eastern province of Zhejiang, including 103 children, were found to have highly dangerous levels of lead in their blood. The adult victims work at factories that process tin foil but the problem is much wider since children are also affected. However, the problem is much more widespread.
China’s Environmental Protection Ministry has ordered inspections in factories and is drafting more stringent rules as well as tougher criminal laws against businesses and political leaders who violate environmental laws.
Still, very is being done to reduce lead poisoning in contaminated villages, where local authorities often ignore rules and allow pollution to continue.
Cracking down is not enough after a village has been serious contaminated. "The government needs to provide treatment and make sure children aren't immediately re-exposed to toxic levels of lead,” Amon said.
Among the many stories presented in the report, there is that of a mother in Yunnan who said, “The doctor told us all the children in this village have lead poisoning. Then they told us a few months later that all the children are healthy. They wouldn’t let us see the results from the tests though.”
A woman in Shaanxi province said, “The government gave us some garlic and told us to give our grandson extra garlic. We asked about medicine, something to make him better. They said they wouldn’t give us any because medicine for lead poisoning doesn’t work.”
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