There are two points to be taken from the storming of a Dongling lead smelter in Shaanxi by local residents angered that their children were suffering from lead poisoning believed to be caused by the plant.
The first is that the incident has been handled with kid gloves by the authorities and given fulsome coverage by state media. Beijing can’t afford either the internal or external attention another child-killing scandal would attract in the wake of last year’s deaths from melamine tainted baby formula.
The second is the inadequacy of the country’s pollution monitoring standards. It is not so much that they are lax, though there is little doubt that they are erratically enforced, it is that they aren’t fit for purpose. Xinhua quotes a local environmental protection official saying that waste discharges from the smelter and nearby ground and surface water and soil met national standards. Which at any one moment may well be true. What is not being measured is the cumulative effect of such poisons, especially on young bodies.