We have been reading reports since at least the beginning of this year that battery factories have been closed down because they are causing lead poisoning in children (this one via BBC). Now it appears the situation has deteriorated to the point where virtually the entire industry is being shut down. Bloomberg quotes Xu Hong, head of the lead-acid battery branch at the China Electrical Equipment Industry Association, as saying:
Regardless of the plants’ conditions, they’ve all been shut down, and there is no timetable now to resume operations.
Zhejiang and Guangdong are the two biggest battery-producing provinces, accounting for more than a third of the country’s output. There have been reports of lead poisoning incidents in both places. Plants in Sichuan and Henan, too, have suspended production, Bloomberg says. The BBC adds that more than 100 people around the country have been affected recently by lead and cadmium poisoning. These are likely to be both children living nearby and factory workers. In 2009 and 2010, thousands of children in several provinces who lived near metal smelters or battery factories were affected by lead poisoning.
Industrial pollution from heavy metals and environmental degradation have become highly sensitive social issues. In Inner Mongolia, after a herdsman was killed trying to stop coal mining trucks crossing traditional nomadic grazing pasture and another Mongolian died at a mine protest, it has turned into a full-scale political and security crisis, as the state media blackout testifies.
As with food safety, good intentions at national and increasingly regional level have not turned into effect policy implementation at local level. As with the attempted clean-up of the coal and steel industries before, a clamp-down on illegal lead smelters and hundreds of small, unauthorized electroplating and battery workshops has been underway since mid-month. The China Business News says that the goal is to reduce the number of battery makers to about 300 from the current 1,700.
In mid-May, the Ministry of Environmental Protection warned that “criminal penalties will be imposed upon the heads of the responsible businesses, and local chief officials will also be held accountable for pollution incidents.” The BBC says some 74 people have been detained this year in connection with lead poisonings. We are sure many of these are likely to be officials from local government, local environmental protection and health bureaus now being investigated for lax supervision. We are also sure they won’t be the last.