Now thousands of Chinese are trying to flee a landscape poisoned by decades of lead manufacturing. Within the next year, about 15,000 people will be evacuated from villages around a cluster of lead production facilities in the city of Jiyuan, in Henan province.
“What choice do we have?” said Han Haibo, a 51-year-old resident of Qingduo, a village of 1,000 that probably will cease to exist within months. “People don’t want to leave, especially the old people who have spent their whole lives here, but the pollution is just too heavy.”
Perhaps it is a sign of China’s coming of age that people are waking up to the dangers of lead.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of lead, but until recently its toxicity rarely entered the Chinese consciousness; in 2007, when millions of Chinese toys were recalled over lead in the paint, many people here grumbled that Americans were too fussy.
Now the Chinese are getting themselves and their children tested. And after finding shockingly high levels of lead in their blood, they are demanding action, in some cases rioting to get attention.