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August 4, 2009

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Deadly chem plant closed down

A CHEMICAL plant that leaked pollution and killed at least two people and sickened hundreds in central China was permanently closed yesterday, following the detention of the factory's boss and the suspension of two environmental officials.

The shutdown of the Changsha Xianghe Chemical Plant in Hunan Province's Liuyang was part of a plan by the city's government to address environmental problems that prompted hundreds of residents to take to streets last week.

City officials also said yesterday that pollution from the plant had exposed 509 people to excessive levels of cadmium, a heavy metal that is a known carcinogen.

"Among those sickened, 33 need to be hospitalized," said Zhou Mengde, who is in charge of investigating the issue. "The government will cover the medical costs of their treatment," he said.

The government offered free health checks to 2,888 villagers living in the area. The factory mainly produced zinc sulfate, an ingredient in livestock feed.

The government also decreed that crops will not be allowed within 1,200 meters of the plant for fear of cadmium contamination. A Xinhua news agency report said that vegetation within a large area surrounding the plant was dead.

The government will buy all the crops and livestock within the polluted areas at market prices and destroy them. Affected residents will be given living allowances and other compensations.

The trouble began when two villagers who lived near the chemical plant died in May and June and autopsies found high levels of cadmium in their bodies.

About 1,000 villagers took to the streets last Thursday in Liuyang's Zhentou Township to protest the detention of six villagers the previous day for demonstrating over the plant's emissions, which they said polluted a river.

Authorities in Changsha, the provincial capital, said illegal operations at the factory produced the cadmium pollution. The plant, established in 2003, was ordered to stop production in April.

Villagers said they had been petitioning for a government investigation since 2007, but local authorities failed to take action.


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