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509 sickened in chemical plant pollution in central China city

A TOTAL of 509 villagers have been sickened by cadmium, a heavy metal pollutant discharged by a chemical plant in Liuyang City in central China's Hunan Province, the local authority said today.

Zhou Mengde, an official in charge of the investigation of the incident, said the government has offered free health checks to 2,888 villagers living in an area within 1,200 meters to the chemical discharge, and urinalysis tests of 509 among them showed excessive cadmium levels.

"Among the sickened, 33 need to be hospitalized. The government will cover the medical cost of their treatment," he said.

Two environmental officials in the city have been suspended from their jobs after villagers took to the streets in several protests of the pollution caused by the Changsha Xianghe Chemical Plant in Zhentou Township. The latest protest on July 30 was participated by around 1,000 villagers.

According to the government investigation, the plant established in 2003 was ordered to stop production in April. However, the death of two residents in May and June, caused panic, since the death was found by local health departments to have been caused by cadmium.

Villagers said they have petitioned for government investigation in the plant's pollution problems since 2007. But the local authority failed to resort to actions.

The plant mainly produced zinc sulfate, an ingredient in fodder. A Xinhua reporter saw a large area of the woods surrounding the plant dead.

In the protests, villagers asked for free health check-ups, free medical treatment and compensation for spoiled crops and land.

According to the official Zhou, agricultural and animal husbandry departments will purchase the spoiled farm produce and livestock from the villagers at market prices, and the purchased goods will be collectively destroyed later.

"The government has issued living subsidies to the villagers since July 3. However, the specific compensation measures will come out later," he said.


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