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February 02, 2013


One might equally speculate that, since most crimes (particularly violent crimes) are committed by single young men, there is a different cause for current Chinese crime problems. As a result of the single child policy, there was a fair amount of female infanticide -- driven by the cultural demand for a male heir for the family. As a result, there are not enough young women to go around.

Add the fact that young Chinese women today have options that don't include getting married (and, inevidably, becoming a semi-slave to their mother-in-law). What youget is an exceptionally large percentage of the young male population which is unmarried . . . and has no real prospect of ever getting married and establishing a family. Presto! Rising crime rates.

No doubt that is overly simplistic in some respects. But it does suggest something worth a hard look by Chinese policy makers.

On paper China has about the toughest regulations on heavy metals in the world, in the case of mercury they are far stricter than in the EU. But in reality they are about as real as the extensive bills of rights in Eastern Bloc constitutions. And let's nod kid ourselves, it's the industry's wet dream (at least in the US) to be able to legally pollute as much as the Chinese in reality do.

I certainly hope that China solves its environmental and social problems. What we can do to move that along is to keep working on building sustainable alternatives to polluting fuels.

it's the industry's wet dream (at least in the US) to be able to legally pollute as much as the Chinese in reality do.

The people who want to pollute do so - in China. They don't do it in the U.S., and are happy not to, because they want their own kids to breathe clean air and see blue skies.

It's my guess that there are plenty of people who realize that when the "playing field" is leveled, and there is no economic benefit to pollution, it's better not to pollute. That's why a strong regulatory environment (one that's enforced globally, through treaties) benefits everyone. I imagine (again - just a guess) that even polluters realize that in a perfect world, pollution would be regulated. They just don't want to be held to those standards before their competitors are.

@sapient: They just don't want to be held to those standards before their competitors are.

What they really want is to have their competitors held to those standards but be able to violate them themselves. That way they get a reasonably clean environment and a competitive advantage. That's why you still have problems with violations even when the regulations are reasonably even across a whole industry.

Pollution prevention is expensive. It's cheaper to have the chief lobbyist of the lead industry get a leading position at EPA. The experts proposed tighthening the maximmum allowable value by a factor of 4, he crushed that and proposed loosening it by a factor of 40 instead since there was (according to him) no indication that lead was in any way dangerous or detrimental to health. Fortunately that was a bit too much even in the Bush/Cheney era to swallow.

For lead exposure throughout the population, the two main sources are: (a) white lead used in paint and (b) tetraethyl lead used as an antiknock in gasoline--the latter being especially bad because it dumps lead into the air. So the question is not pollution in China in general, but the extent to which those two compounds are used. Other uses (eg batteries) could produce exposure near the sites of mining and manufacturing, but not the kind of pervasive exposure that the first two will. Lead-glazed pottery or lead pipes, similarly, are a problem but one with limited exposure.

One of the first hits for a simple Google search for "leaded gasoline china" is this:

Nine years after China banned lead in gasoline, lead levels in children's blood is decreasing.

A new study reports significant declines during the past decade in blood lead levels of boys and girls in China.

The study examined and compared blood lead levels (BLL) from two different periods to look for trends over time. They compared values reported in published studies from 2001 to 2007 with results from a previous study where the same research group reported children's lead levels between measured between 1995 and 2003.

Lead is a dangerous metal to children, in part, because it impacts cognitive development. More than 30 countries, including the US, have adopted a blood lead level standard for children of 100 µg/L (micrograms per liter) of blood (sometimes written as 10 µg/dL). This standard is based on the recognition that such concentrations are associated with lower IQ scores.

This previous survey – completed in 2004 – showed that BLLs in Chinese children was alarmingly high. The average BLL for boys was 96.4 µg/L, with 36.2 percent of boys sampled exceeding the 100 µg/L standard. Girls were slightly lower, with average BLLs of 89.4 with 30.6 percent exceeding the 100 µg/L standard.

In the new study, the authors found that by 2007, boys’ BLLs dropped to an average value of 79.3 with 22.5 percent exceeding standards, whereas girls decreased to 76.9 with 19.6 percent exceeding standards. The authors suggest the declining trend is linked to the 2000 ban of leaded gasoline in China.

While these decreases are a positive sign, these blood levels are still alarmingly high. No thresholds have been set for what constitutes a truly “safe” level of lead in children. Studies have shown lead under 10 µg/L can impair intelligence.

If that's right, China is likely seeing an upswing in crime that will continue for the next few decades, and will then decline depending on lead inputs from other than gasoline.

The lead hypothesis is really interesting, and the point that it is not lead in China is well taken. Given that the link to violence is correlative, we really don't know if other heavy metal poisoning would produce similar effects and the pollution in China is all the heavy metals, not just lead. However, since China is the biggest producer of refined lead, there are other routes for the population to be affected by lead in particular.

This article notes that a lot of these incidents are lead, though aluminum, mercury, cadmium, copper and antimony among others are in the mix.

Yellow sand is a problem here, though the consensus from most researchers is that the heavy metals drop out earlier. I hope...

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