TIM: In the past two months, we’ve seen two very high profile lead poisoning cases in Shaanxi province and Hunan, Shi said. In both cases, Xinhua, the official news agency was the whistle blower
ZOE: What are the villagers concerned about?
TIM: According to Shi there over 850 children who tested positive for lead poisoning in Shanxi and in Hunan, 1,300 children tested positive, so villagers are very concerned about the future of their kids. Lead poisoning was also found in adults and they are concerned about their living environment and want to be relocated to another place. Another issue is medical care, because many people in rural areas are not covered by health care.
ZOE: Can you talk about the effects of heavy metal poisoning on youngsters?
TIM: Children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning. It damages their nervous and reproductive systems and affects motor skills along with memory.
ZOE: What has been the government’s reaction on the provincial and national level?
TIM: In both cases, the two smelting plants had been ordered to shut down, the owners arrested and in Shanxi they are going to prosecute the two owners for discharging the toxic substances. In Hunan, Xinhua said health and environmental officials have been sent to help and investigate who is responsible for the poisoning. So far, there has been no offer by provincial government for any compensation money for the victims, Shi said.
ZOE: How have villages and locals received the response?
TIM: Not very well, in Shanxi, the smelting plant was ordered to shut down but was still operating and villagers stormed the plant and staged protests leading local government to send in riot police to send them off.
Shi said they are very worried about their kid’s future because there isn’t any compensation money, she added.
ZOE: What or who is responsible for this series of tragedies?
TIM: In both cases, there are two smelting plants blamed for the poisoning. The Hunan smelter was part of the Dongling Group, among the top 500 companies in China, and in Shanxi it was another smelting plant.
ZOE: How common is this problem on the mainland?
TIM: It’s quite common, because the rapid industrialisation over the past 30 years, have lead to widespread environmental damage.