Reigning in lead poisoning in China

Battery factories in China have exposed nearby residents to high levels of lead. Even a free market optimist can see that there should be stricter regulations.

By , Guest blogger

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    Clouds of smoke billow from a metal alloy factory in Gaolan county in northwest China's Gansu province in this Nov. 7, 2006 file photo. Some factories in China expose nearby residents to lead, which could eventually lead to higher crime.
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This is a scary article about victims in China being exposed (without them knowing it) to extremely high lead levels. You do not want to live near a battery manufacturer. Lead levels are elevated in a vicinity around such factories.

An unintended consequence of the growth in factories that produce lead-acid batteries for electric bikes, motorcycles and cars — has been elevated lead exposure.

Can a free market optimist figure out how to mitigate this nasty externality? So, let's start with the bad news --- China's crime levels will go up in the year 2029 as these children will now be adults and some of them will go on to a life of crime (or so predicts Jessica Reyes's work).

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A first step for addressing this problem is to use GIS software to make maps of all of the battery manufacturers in China. I am assuming that this can be done. Next , we need atmospheric chemists to figure out what is the spatial relationship between ambient lead concentrations and distance from the polluter. So, call a battery factory --- "Ground Zero" and start to move away from it such as moving East --- as you move 1/2 mile east -- what is the ambient lead level there versus at "Ground Zero"? What is the distance decay rate in pollution exposure. Let's assume that after 1/2 mile of distance that ambient lead levels are low again.

Now, we need the Chinese authorities to use land use regulation to create a moat around these lead factories. Population living within this 1/2 mile radius needs to be minimized. I understand that it will be a poverty magnet but the powerful Chinese State must use its muscle to not allow people to live there.
Separation of polluters and victims is one strategy for protecting the population; recall that the solution to pollution is dilution!

This NY Times article hints that the government is guilty of not educating the public about what their blood lead levels are or about the consequences of being exposed to such gunk. As I have argued before, human capital is the scarce capital stock and China will have an incentive to protect its public's health.
Such extremely dirty economic activity must be quarantined.

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