The Alarming Blood Lead Levels

For the past few weeks, we are discussing the DC Water Lead Crisis and the high blood lead levels (BLL). As a toxic metal, lead can accumulate inside the body (both human and animals) and cause severe nerve damage, especially to young kids and infants. I felt really sad to see the infant had a fluctuated BLL with the highest value of > 80 ug/L. After the class, I was quite curious about the BLL standard in China and hence searched it online. The searching result came to be 100 ug/L, which is twice over US BLL standard (50 ug/L). That means all the cases we saw in this class would not be deemed as lead poison in China. With such a high BLL standard, lots of children still have a BLL of 120-160 ug/L in major cities, according to a survey performed between 1995 to 2000 among 14,000 children. I kept thinking that I was also a kid between 1995 to 2000, so there is a high chance that my BLL was over 100 ug/L at that time as well. Suddenly I feel so lucky that I survived through the “brain damage” and make it to graduate school. Knowing the fact that China is still a developing country with booming industry, I admit that BLL standard should be a little bit higher 10 years ago. However, the current BLL standard remains to be 100 ug/L in China, which may cause irreversible brain and intellectual damage to numerous children.

This is such an alarming situation considering the booming chemical/heavy industries and severe air pollution in China. Instead of lead pipe for premise plumbing, people can be directly exposed to lead through multiple ways, for example high level of lead in drinking water and inhalation of lead particles. But at the end of day, the lead crisis in China is still an ethical problem and violation of professional conduct. We keep making decisions like economical development over environment protection. Entrepreneurs build lots of factories to make profit while generating tons of pollutants. These pollutants are not well treated before discharging, posing excess load to the self-cleaning capacity of local environment. Eventually, local environment is damaged together with deteriorated public health. Personally, I read too many stories on “cancer villages” in China, as the majority of people are suffering from all kinds of cancer due to local environment pollution. As a environmental engineer, I feel like advanced treatment techniques cannot save us at all, and solution lies in improving ethical standards of all people. I know that, even in US, DC lead crisis is just a tip of iceberg, as there are so many other public health issues to be discovered. China still have a long way to go in this ethical marathon.


1 Comment on “The Alarming Blood Lead Levels

  1. Shiqiang, thank you for informing about the situation in China. I am pretty sure the situation is worse in India. With developing nations, the problem of toxic metals in water, soil and air is very regular and often ignored considering other “important” things to work. This often results in the unhealthy growth of children especially living in a rural and undeveloped setting. It is a commonplace knowledge that the people in Asian countries are often shorter and leaner compared to their American or European peers. I wonder most of that should be related to the environment one is brought up. Lead is one of the major toxic elements but there are several others such as arsenic and mercury. I can only hope that people become aware and raise their children in a healthy environment.

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