U.S. Battery Maker Identified In Pollution Report

A report released by Shanghai’s municipal government over the weekend identifies a battery plant run by U.S.-based Johnson Controls Inc. as the chief culprit in a September lead contamination incident which sickened 49 children in a section of the city’s Pudong district. From China Daily:

The investigation found that the children were exposed to high levels of airborne lead in their living environments, according to the government report released on Saturday.

The report said a battery plant, an auto parts manufacturer and a recycling company were connected to the lead poisoning. 

The report said Shanghai Johnson Controls International Battery Co Ltd was identified as the major source of lead contamination in Kangqiao. It said the company expanded its production without government permits, and discharged excess airborne lead.

Production involving lead at Shanghai Johnson Controls and Shanghai Xinmingyuan Automobile Parts has been shut down. The companies were ordered to take responsibility for the pollution.

The president of Johnson Controls disputed the report’s findings, according to the Associated press, citing an independently-commissioned industry report that found the company’s battery plant was not emitting excess lead:

“All I can tell you is that there are some things in the report that don’t make any sense,” he said. “Certainly it’s very difficult to understand what they based the decision on, other than their desire that we relocate.”

“I don’t understand what’s driving these decisions,” he said.

Johnson Controls has insisted all along that its plant’s emission controls would have prevented any significant contamination. It says emissions were about one-seventh of the Chinese national standard and that employees were frequently tested to ensure their blood lead levels remained with safe limits.

Molinaroli contends the Shanghai authorities have failed to identify the real cause of the lead poisoning cases and that the risks of further contamination remain.

The Wall Street Journal details the broader issues underlying this and other recent incidents of pollution in China:

It also raises issues of land use—a persistent problem in the fast-growing country. Zoning in China’s urban areas was traditionally weak and even today housing blocks stand next to factories. China’s richer cities like Shanghai are increasingly eager to push polluting industries elsewhere, sentiment Johnson Controls said it detected in its negotiations with local authorities.

At the same time, some business groups complain that foreign companies can get unfairly caught up in public campaigns. Observers worried last year when the southwestern city of Chongqing took action over a price-labeling issue at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlets that led to the temporary closure of 13 stores and the detentions of dozens of employees.

See also recent CDT coverage of pollution in China, including reports of contaminated river water in Guangxi which threatened the water supply of 1.5 million people in January.

February 28, 2012 3:36 AM
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