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January 6, 2010

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Lead plant shut after children suffer toxic illness

A BATTERY factory has been shut down in Shanghai's neighboring Jiangsu Province for spewing air pollutants after 51 of 110 children tested in a village were found to be sickened by elevated lead levels in their blood.

It is the latest scandal involving widespread heavy metal pollution.

The local government has ordered a check on all children living in Hekou Village near the plant area in Dafeng City.

Authorities said treatments had started on the ailing children, Jiangsu-based Modern Express reported yesterday.

Villagers have accused the Shengxiang Battery Co of polluting the air.

They said the environment had deteriorated since the factory moved beside a river that ran through the village in 2007.

The villagers have been protesting against the pollution since last November. They blocked the entrances of the factory and clashed with the plant's security guards.

Their efforts failed to produce any action from authorities.

The first sickened child was reported in August last year, when the 10-month-old grandson of villager Zhang Fushu started to vomit and refuse food.

A medical check recorded the baby as having 313 micrograms of lead to 1 liter of blood, far exceeding the recommended maximum safe level of 100mg/l.

Zhang said almost half of the children who were sent to hospitals were found sickened by lead poisoning.

Senior villager Bu Junkou told the newspaper the government had not started any free treatment for the children.

Bu said the factory, less than 100 meters from the village, used lead as its main raw material and the smelly air forced them to shut doors and windows "day and night."

He said villagers had been filing complaints to environmental watchdogs in vain.

The city government said it had launched an investigation and would release results "as soon as possible."

Cheng Qihua, the manager of the Shengxing company, said the firm was also a victim in the scandal.

Cheng said the company lost a lot of money after it was forced to close.

He said he warned authorities when he was invited to invest in the area that production could be hazardous to the health of nearby residents.

Yet officials told him to go ahead, he claimed.

The company was fully licensed, with all required environmental protection certificates, Cheng said, showing the documentation to reporters.

A series of lead-poisoning cases in provinces around the country last year alarmed the public about the damage being done to the environment during the nation's rapid economic development.


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