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August 20, 2009

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Final countdown for toxic lead plant

AUTHORITIES in northwest China's Shaanxi Province said yesterday that all facilities of a smelting plant would cease operations by Saturday amid public anger over heavy metal discharges by the factory that left 851 children ill.

Xu Qiang, deputy mayor of Baoji City, yesterday urged residents in Changqing Township, where the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Fengxiang County, Baoji, is located, to resume their normal way of life as early as possible following its closure.

The plant was ordered by environmental protection authorities to suspend lead and zinc production on August 6, after cases of lead poisoning were reported among children from two villages near the factory site.

Four of five smelting sections, responsible for lead poisoning, had halted production before Monday, Wang Hai'ao, director of environmental protection bureau in Baoji City, said.

The last smelting section has 11 distillation columns, but six had been pulled out of production by Monday.

The remaining five were left with heat on until molten zinc could run off, leading to a mass protest by villagers.

"The last five distillation columns will also be pulled out of production to fully dispel villagers' concerns about the smelting company's lead pollution," Wang told a press conference yesterday.

All of the distillation columns will have stopped operations by Saturday morning, Wang said.

The firm would suffer a loss of more than 10 million yuan (US$1.46 million).

Dongling's other business, the coking project, which pumps out pollutants other than lead, has stopped production, but its furnace has been left on temporarily to allow burn-off.

Amid widespread poisoning fears, Fengxiang County government offered free blood tests for 1,016 children aged 14 and under from three villages of Changqing Township, 851 of whom were found to have excessive lead levels.

Xu pledged yesterday that when the autumn semester begins in September, each school would be assigned with an extra health care doctor to teach students about the prevention of lead poisoning.


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