Sunday, November 06, 2005

Strolling Past the Lead Plant

[Click any photo to enlarge.]
Although we traveled through many very modern areas in Chizhou, a tall smokestack was the predominant image seen from the river. In a morning stroll through the waterfront area, we started past the decaying port terminal, where teens pretended to be skateboard dudes in baggy clothes, doing stunts on rubber wheeled roller skates.

We crossed a viaduct near a new police station located amid decaying commercial buildings. It was difficult to always tell in China which buildings were being built, abandoned, renovated or simply used as they were. It was the only time in two weeks there was strong whiff of sewage.

Blue gravel trucks hurtled down the main road toward the landing, blowing their air horns. In cities where there was much more harrowing traffic, horns were rarely heard, but here, the blasts were constant.

In America, we're now conditioned to think industrial smoke is white because all we typically see coming from chimneys is water vapor. It was shocking to see the foul black smoke and the grey clouds rising from under the factory roofs as if the place were burning down. A hospital is only a block away, to the right of this shot.

Reports say slightly over 10% of Chinese children have unhealthy levels of lead in their blood. One toxic city in the south has an 82% rate. It's not just coming from battery factories, but from electronics plants and the processing of e-waste.

Friends just returning from China said they saw a story putting the rate of lead poisoning in Chizhou's children at 95%. I couldn't independently confirm it, but these kids are growing up within blocks of the lead factory. The factory is scheduled to close within two years.

China's rapid development is worrisome for the added pressure it places on the environment, on the consumption of scarce fuels and material, on the displacement of jobs. But then I remember the smells of Chizhou, the smiles of those kids and the stroll past the lead factory.


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