Environmental pollution is an increasing cause for social unrest in China, and the latest comes because of lead poisoning, which a Chinese city tried to cover up.
In Dapu, a rural town with plenty of smelters and chemical plants, eight residents have said that families with children with lead exposure were offered free milk in exchange for handing over their test results showing lead in their blood. Residents report that officials claimed that the milk would flush the lead out of the children’s bodies.
“I still give my grandsons milk, but it’s useless,” Mao Baozhu, 61, a local resident who says her three grandchildren have all been diagnosed with high lead levels, told Reuters. “Isn’t the resident’s committee just trying to deceive us by distributing milk and saying all the kids have to do is drink it and they’ll be cured?”
According to Reuters, “the belief that milk can treat lead poisoning is widespread in China. The National Health and Family Planning Commission recommends ‘nutritional intervention’ for children exposed to lead because they may have nutritional deficiencies, among other treatments.”
But better nutrition does not lower lead levels. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends “eliminating the source of pollution and, in extreme cases, treatment to remove heavy metals from the body.”
According to the World Health Organization, lead poisoning is responsible for 600,000 new cases of childhood developmental disabilities every year. There’s also a link between exposure to outdoor air pollution and lung cancer.
It’s not the first time that China has tried to manipulate test results. There was a 2011 report on lead poisoning in China by the Human Rights Watch that documented how local hospitals in polluted areas withheld and potentially manipulated or falsified test results.
Beyond providing free milk, officials also reimbursed the costs of the tests, but only to those people that turned in the originals, highlighting the role of money in the rural region, where residents may not have the means to protect themselves. As Reuters reports, “When asked, two said they had not considered consulting a lawyer because they couldn’t afford one.”
Photo Credit: Patrick Pielarski