Chinese Lead Poisoning: Where Children Are Expendable

Back in 2007, consumers were shocked by revelations that millions of toys were tainted with paint containing excessive levels of lead.

The recalled toys were made in China. The reason why the Chinese used the high-lead paint instead of the safe paint it was contracted to use was that it is often a third of the price of safe paints. In other words, Chinese factory managers were willing to put American children at risk to keep their economy booming.

Immediately upon learning of the lead in the paint, American firms took action. Fisher-Price recalled 967,000 plastic toys with the lead paint. Mattel and other toy companies immediately recalled millions of lead-laden playthings that threatened the health of American children. No doubt these firms feared lawsuits. However, they also had the conviction that it is better to fill our landfills with millions of dolls, trains and toy cars than even remotely risk the life or health of one American child.

The case of the lead-laden toys is a dramatic example of the Chinese communist government’s callous disregard for children. Of all consumers, the child is the most defenseless. It is hard to imagine a more heartless crime than profiting from the vulnerability of the child.

However, lead poisoning of children is not something that almost happened back in 2007. The practice continues unabated. The victims are not American children but China’s own.

According to a special report of the group, Human Rights Watch, lead-polluting factories are condemning hundreds of thousands of children to permanent mental and physical disabilities. Not only are these children vulnerable but Chinese government officials are restricting access to lead testing, withholding and falsifying test results, and denying children treatment. Family members and journalists seeking information about the problem are intimidated and harassed.

The 75-page report, “‘My Children Have Been Poisoned’: A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces,” documents how local authorities in four provinces are ignoring the urgent and long-term health consequences of a generation of children continuously exposed to life-threatening levels of lead.

The problem is made much more tragic by the fact that China has a brutal one-child policy that often includes forced abortion. Thus, not only are children being poisoned but it is most likely the parents’ only child that suffers.

“Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Parents, journalists, and community activists who dare to speak out about lead are detained, harassed, and ultimately silenced.”

The report documents how local authorities in contaminated areas have imposed arbitrary limits on access to blood lead testing, for example by permitting only people living within a small radius of a factory to be tested. When tests are conducted, results have often been contradictory or have been withheld from victims and their families. And children with elevated blood lead levels who require treatment according to national guidelines have been denied care or told simply to eat certain foods, including apples, garlic, milk, and eggs.

Lead is highly toxic and can interrupt the body’s neurological, biological, and cognitive functions.

The ingestion of high levels of lead can cause brain, liver, kidney, nerve, and stomach damage as well as anemia, comas, convulsions, and even death. Children are particularly susceptible, and high levels of lead exposure can cause permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities, including reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing loss, attention problems, and disruption in the development of visual and motor functioning.

If this report were issued about the United States, there is no doubt whole industries would be shut down and the cause of the poisoning determined. Lawsuits would be initiated. The media would pounce upon the offenders with a vengeance.

Alas, there was a time when economy was connected to ethics and such situations would be deemed immoral. Nations would not trade with those who so disregarded the lives of their citizens. People would refuse to buy those products purchased at the high price of human misery.

However, China, falsely touted as the great power of the 21st century, seems immune to international criticism on this and other issues. As long as they churn out cheap consumer goods for the world, many are content to let China poison her children.

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