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August 15, 2009

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Mass move set for area around smelting plant

AUTHORITIES in northwest China are working to relocate at least 1,000 people living near a smelting plant suspected of causing lead poisoning in more than 600 children.

The government of Shaanxi Province's Fengxiang County began building new homes on Thursday for 425 families living within 500 meters of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Changqing Township.

The residents are expected to move to the new community, about 1 kilometer from their current homes, within two years, said He Hongnian, deputy county head. Construction costs were not available.

Pu Yiming, chief of Changqing, said the cost would largely be shared by the county government and local businesses.

Under the relocation plan, initiated before the plant was opened in 2006, the residents should have moved already. County officials said the delay was caused by "readjustments in the overall planning of the Changqing industrial park."

Residents think the delay may have endangered their health as a local child, six-year-old Miao Fan, was diagnosed with stomach inflammation resulting from lead ingestion in late July. Miao's case sparked widespread fear among residents, who rushed their children to hospitals for blood tests.

The smelting plant was shut down on August 6.

According to tests carried out by industrial illness specialists at Xi'an Central Hospital this week, 615 children -- about 85 percent of the children under 14 tested -- had excessive lead levels in their blood.

Among them, 166 children were admitted to a hospital as their blood-lead levels exceeded 250 micrograms per liter, compared with the normal level of zero to 100 micrograms.

Villager Lei Xiaofei said his nine-year-old daughter, Lei Xinyue, was admitted to the county hospital early yesterday. "Her blood lead level was 506 micrograms a liter, the highest of all the children tested. I really fear it might do her permanent harm," the father said. Lei Xinyue's doctor, Luo Lei, said the girl needed to spend at least a week in the hospital.

Two other severe cases, 12-year-old Ma Yueyue and seven-year-old Ma Dongsheng, were admitted to the same hospital yesterday. Their blood lead levels were 480 micrograms and 499 micrograms a liter, respectively.

The county has promised to cover the children's medical expenses. For those receiving treatment at home, the government will provide milk, dried vegetables and nuts, which are believed to help expel excessive lead from the body.


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