Chinese Town Poisoned by Batteries

Even if "hysteria" may be to blame for some environmental illnesses in China, state media are unequivocal about the poisoning of citizens who live near a chemical plant in the town of Zhentou.

Health checks on nearly 3,000 people living near the plant in Liuyang county, Hunan province, revealed 509 had excessive levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal [which is used to make batteries].
As it moves to contain an outbreak of the plague elsewhere, the government appears to be responding faster and with more transparency than usual, a reflection of growing awareness of environmental health in the area, and around the country.
AFP reports:
The authorities have suspended two local environmental officials and detained the head of the plant following a protest last week by 1,000 residents, state media reported at the weekend.

Residents said they had petitioned since 2007 for an investigation of the plant but the local authorities had failed to take action, Xinhua reported.

The protesters demanded free health check-ups, free medical treatment and compensation for ruined crops and land.

The plant, which was plagued by environmental problems, was ordered to stop production in April. Protests erupted after the deaths of two people in May and June were found to have been caused by cadmium, Xinhua said.

The plant, which was plagued by environmental problems, was ordered to stop production in April. Protests erupted after the deaths of two people in May and June were found to have been caused by cadmium, Xinhua said.

Zhou said the government would buy the affected crops and livestock, with specific compensation measures to come later.

But villagers -- some of whom were beaten and arrested during the protests -- appear to be unsatisfied with the compensation so far. (see Sina article, in Chinese, here). AFP:
A female official reached by phone at Zhentou government headquarters defended the steps taken by authorities.

"We have already done a lot of work on the pollution issue and announced compensation, but some people do not accept it," said the woman, who gave only her surname, Luo.

"Instead, they spread rumours and inflate the problem. We do not know what they are up to."

A local villager who also gave his surname as Luo told AFP his family of five had received 5,000 yuan (735 dollars) in compensation.

"That is too low. We demand that the government move us to a safer location," he said.

The Chinese magazine Caijing recently noted that illegal extraction of non-ferrous metals and the discharge of untreated chemical-laced sewage is common in the area. Vegetables grown along the Xiang river have also been found to contain high levels of cadmium, mercury and lead.

A Reminder that Cadmium Is Just Not Good
About three-quarters of all cadmium used is for the production of batteries, predominantly in rechargeable nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries. Increasingly, nickel-metal hydride batteries are replacing Ni-Cd batteries. In 2004 the European Union banned the use of cadmium in electronics with several exceptions but reduced the allowed content of cadmium in electronics to 0.002 %.

Exposure to cadmium may cause flu like symptoms and can result in tracheo-bronchitis, pneumonitis, and pulmonary edema. Inhaling cadmium-laden dust quickly leads to respiratory tract and kidney problems which can be fatal.

If it isn't a sign of a stronger tack on environmental problems and the health threats that come with them, the government's and the state media's quick response indicates the scale of China's chemical dumping problem, and how citizens are growing angrier.

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Tags: Chemicals | China | Pollution

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