Lead scares highlight China's environmental dilemma
A pair of lead poisoning scandals affecting at least 2,000 children in China are just the latest in a seemingly endless string of pollution scares exposing the dark side of the nation's economic boom.
China's growth rates have long been envied around the globe, but its three-decade industrial expansion also has turned it into one of the world's most toxic countries.
Countless cities are smothered in smog while hundreds of millions of citizens lack access to unpolluted drinking water.
Acid rain affects huge swathes of the country and there are regular revelations of public health scares due to factories spewing cancer-causing toxins and other pollutants into the air, water and the food chain.
Despite a growing environmental consciousness here, such scares remain rife due to lax enforcement and an overriding focus on industrial growth, activists said.
"The main issue is that local law enforcement remains very weak. They have limited resources to monitor industries, so (polluting) companies can just get away without punishment," said Ma Tianjie, a campaigner with Greenpeace China.
In the recent cases, at least 2,150 children living near two smelting plants in Hunan and Shaanxi provinces are suffering from suspected lead poisoning, according to official figures. The plants have been closed.