Lead poisoning in China

It’s a huge problem — the Times calls it a Hidden Scourge:

Here, Chinese leaders have acknowledged that lead contamination is a grave issue and have raised the priority of reducing heavy-metal pollution in the government’s latest five-year plan, presented in March. But despite efforts to step up enforcement, including suspending production last month at a number of battery factories, the government’s response remains faltering.

At a meeting last month of China’s State Council, after yet another disclosure of mass poisoning, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao scolded Environmental Minister Zhou Shengxian for the lack of progress, according to an individual with high-level government ties who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The government has not ordered a nationwide survey of children’s blood lead levels, so the number of children who are at risk is purely a matter of guesswork. Mass poisonings like that at the Haijiu factory typically come to light only after suspicious parents seek hospital tests, then alert neighbors or co-workers to the alarming results.

And relevant to my current work, which I hope to write about more soon.


06 2011

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  1. 1

    Not sure what your current work is, but what do you think of the theory that the US decline in crime is due to the reduction of lead levels in the 70s?

  2. 2

    I haven’t read any of the literature on that subject (the decline of crime in the US vs. reduction of lead levels) so I can’t really offer balanced commentary. I’ve seen it written about (on Freakonomics I believe, and elsewhere) and my gut reaction is pretty strong skepticism. I think other things like long-term changes in demographics (one which crime rates seem to be strongly dependent) or better technology, or just the massive increase in the incarcerated population seem at first glance to be better explanations. I’m also not sure the link between lead and crime is strong enough (there are too many steps in between) to see that strong of a decline based primarily on the change in blood lead levels we’ve seen. Possible, but it seems like an extraordinary claim so it would require a lot of evidence. I could end up being convinced, but right now I’m just ignorant.

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