By Kevin Li
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009, village children affected by lead poisoning from the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. plant receive medical treatment at a hospital in Fengxiang county, west of Xi
The two cases of lead poisoning and a case of cadmium poisoningin China this month alarmed us the use of toxic metals in the consumer products. However, enforcement of domestic regulations may not stop the accidents from happening in other parts of the world if we cannot trace back the source of minerals from the end of the supply chain.
Both lead and cadmium are the major materials for the rechargeable battery’s electrodes. In the era of economic recession, the battery industry can still expand their business as new technology is emerging, and rechargeable batteries are widely applied in most electronic products. The industry is also stretching its arms into the business of electric automotive while most people conceive it as more environmentally friendly.
China, as one of the biggest manufacturer countries in the world, is seeking to secure the mineral resources, not only domestically, but also in the other parts of world. These moves ensure the supply of such metals and help the country maintain its export and economic growth. However, pursuit of economic growth will sacrifice the people and the environment throughout the entire supply chain.
Childrens’ suffering from lead poisoning is already tragic. But the suffering does not end up here. Lack of precautionary measure led to workers’ poisoning of lead in a battery factory in Guangdong. It was also reported that lead poisoning in Guangdong’s battery factory is quite popular.
This is not the first case, as cadmium poisoning in battery factory was exposed five years ago, and now expands to the villagers living around the smelters. As China did not ban the use of the two toxic metals, the mining and refinery processes, which we see a trend of an expansion abroad, will continue to hurt the people and environment inside the country.
Chinese acquisition of mineral abroad, poisoning may follow
With loose environmental regulations, weak awareness of occupational health and safety, and the political repression, people in African countries are as weak as their Chinese counterparts in avoiding the toxic contamination.
Chinese mining companies are securing new mines in Africa. China’s biggest nickel mining company, Jinchuan Nickel Group will buy 70% share of Munali Nickel Mine in Zambia. China’s Zhonghui Mining Group will also build copper mines in Zambia. China Non-ferrous Metals Industry acquired a copper mine in Zambia. These are only the deals signed recently. Chinese companies also acquired lead-zinc mines and other copper mines in the recent years. Nickel is also one of the metals used in rechargeable battery.
Last year, workers at the Zambia’s Chambishi copper mine protested for being dismissed by their Chinese employers. If Chinese investors did not realized their responsibilities to the workers, the villagers and the environment, just like what they are doing domestically, more conflicts between Chinese management and the workers, either local or from China, will occur. Earlier this month, there was already a clash between the Chinese and Algerian people for numerous reasons like job security, economic advantage and cultural differences.
If we cannot leverage each part of the supply chain, from mining to battery production, toxic metal poisoning of the villagers, workers and the environment will not limit to China, but will expand beyond the border, and lead to bigger conflicts and damage the international relations and image of China. Not to say Tibet that serve as the biggest mineral reserve for China.