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October 14, 2009

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Blood tests show high lead levels in 968 kids

BLOOD tests on 968 children living near China's biggest lead smelting base have shown excessive levels of the toxic metal.

The health bureau of Jiyuan City, in central China's Henan Province, initiated the tests after a lead poisoning scandal was exposed in neighboring Shaanxi Province.

Since August 20, the city government has provided blood tests for 2,743 children under age 14 who lived near three major smelters, Wei Zongchang, director of the Jiyuan Health Bureau, said yesterday.

"The news (of excessive lead levels) is like an earthquake. We are all worried about the health of our kids," said Li Hongwei, a resident of Shibin Village.

Some villagers in Shibin demonstrated in front of the factories late last month, holding banners saying, "Without health, what are we farming for?" and "Give us back blue sky, give us back clean water."

Duan Xizhong, secretary of the Communist Party of China's Jiyuan Committee, said the city government has suspended lead production at 35 plants.

Children moved

Environmental protection inspectors were stationed at the three big plants: the Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, Wanyang Smeltery Group and Jinli Smelting.

All children living within 1,000 meters of the smelters have been moved away, and allowances and educational assistance have been provided by the government.

Some children who are under age six were living in a local hotel, and the government has opened a kindergarten for them.

"We bear responsibility for the pollution," said Yang Anguo, chairman of the Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, the biggest lead producer in the country.

"Some pollution has accumulated over the past 20 years or more, and the plant is too close to homes."

Li Yuanxiang, chief engineer at Wanyang Smelter Group, said the company used production techniques from 2000 to 2004 that created most of the plant's pollution.

Jiyuan has a 52-year history of lead production, and the excessive blood lead levels are the result of long-term accumulation, said Jiyuan Mayor Zhao Suping.

Public outrage

Zhao said that more than 200 government officials had been sent to explain the situation to villagers.

The government also organized a trip by village representatives to Fengxiang, Shaanxi Province, where 851 children had excessive lead levels in their blood and 174 were considered serious enough to need hospital treatment, in a move to ease the villagers' anxieties.

The mass lead poisoning in Fengxiang was exposed in August and sparked public outrage after wide media coverage.

A child who ingests large amounts of lead may develop anemia, muscle weakness and brain damage.

Where poisoning occurs, it is usually gradual.

Similar reports of lead poisoning have also emerged in Yunnan and Fujian provinces in recent months, and the number of affected children now exceeds 3,000.


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