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December 1, 2011

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US battery maker denies causing lead poisoning

US battery maker Johnson Controls is at odds with Shanghai's environmental regulator over tests the company says show it was not responsible for severe lead poisoning cases in children earlier this year.

The company said yesterday that an investigation by the China Electric Equipment Industry Association found its battery factory in Shanghai's Kangqiao area was not the cause of elevated blood-lead levels among children living nearby. Instead, it blamed a recycling facility in the area.

Shanghai Environment Bureau official Ju Chunfang, who took part in testing the Johnson Control plant, questioned the investigation, saying it was not independent. Ju said the bureau began another investigation of its own last week.

Local officials insisted the plant, which is much larger than other battery factories in the area, had to be the cause of the poisoning cases. Ju cited several instances of occasionally high emissions readings and prevailing wind patterns as the reason for that claim.

The company said tests showed abnormally high lead levels at a waste recycling facility near the Kangqiao community, with lead levels three times the national standard and 10 times a pending stricter standard. Zinc levels were 15 times the national standard.

Xia Qing, the scientist who led the probe cited by Johnson Controls, said it was commissioned by the industry association and was not paid for by the battery maker. Xia, an engineer with the China Research Academy of Environmental Science, said: "I have three conclusions. First, trust the Chinese environmental protection laws. Second, the lead poisonings were not caused by Johnson Controls. And third, pay more attention to the recycling stations and companies."

The lead contamination came to light after families living in Kanghua New Village, a small block of apartments erected to house families moved to make way for an industrial zone, said checks showed many of their children had abnormally high blood lead levels.

The Johnson Controls factory suspended production in September after it reached its annual quota for lead use. The plant has sought permission to expand production, but local environmental officials say such requests will not be approved due to concerns over lead emissions.

Johnson Controls says it intends to resume production in January.


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