Despite China’s leaded gasoline phase out in 2000, the continued high rates of lead poisoning found in children’s blood lead levels reflect the need for identifying and controlling other sources of lead pollution. From 2001 to 2007, 24% of children in China studied (N = 94,778) were lead poisoned with levels exceeding 100 μg/L. These levels stand well above the global average of 16%. These trends reveal that China still faces significant public health challenges, with millions of children currently at risk of lead poisoning. The unprecedented growth of China’s lead-acid battery industry from the electric bike, automotive, and photovoltaic industries may explain these persistently high levels, as China remains the world’s leading producer, refiner, and consumer of both lead and lead-acid batteries.
This review assesses the role of China’s rising lead-acid battery industry on lead pollution and exposure. It starts with a synthesis of biological mechanisms of lead exposure followed by an analysis of the key technologies driving the rapid growth of this industry. It then details the four main stages of lead battery production, explaining how each stage results in significant lead loss and pollution. A province-level accounting of each of these industrial operations is also included. Next, reviews of the literature describe how this industry may have contributed to mass lead poisonings throughout China. Finally, the paper closes with a discussion of new policies that address the lead-acid battery industry and identifies policy frameworks to mitigate exposure.
This paper is the first to integrate the market factors, production processes, and health impacts of China’s growing lead-acid battery industry to illustrate its vast public health consequences. The implications of this review are two-fold: it validates calls for a nationwide assessment of lead exposure pathways and levels in China as well as for a more comprehensive investigation into the health impacts of the lead-acid battery industry. The continuous growth of this industry signals the urgent need for effective regulatory action to protect the health and lives of China’s future generations.
Environmental Health 2013, 12:61 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-61