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August 19, 2009

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Metal plants shut in new lead scare

AUTHORITIES in a central China city have ordered all metallurgical enterprises to close for environmental checks after 86 children living near a manganese plant were found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood.

The case was the second recent mass lead poisoning in China, following similar emissions in northwest China's Shaanxi Province that sickened 615 children and was still generating protests on Monday because the plant had not completely shut down.

In Hunan Province's Wugang City, all metallurgical plants have been closed since Saturday, Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.

Controversy erupted when a child was taken to a hospital for treatment of hair loss and found to have lead in his blood. Villagers then began having their blood tested, and high lead levels were discovered in all children checked and some of the adults.

Villagers blocked a major road on July 30 to stop vehicles from entering or exiting the plant. They said all their complaints had been ignored, according to the report.

Crops wither

The manganese plant suspected of causing the lead poisoning was built more than three years ago, often sending dark smoke into the sky and causing crops to wither nearby, neighbors told the newspaper.

The city government said people living within 2.5 kilometers of the plant could have a free blood test at two designated hospitals.

In the other case, the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Shaanxi's Fengxiang County in Baoji City was ordered by environmental authorities to suspend lead and zinc operations on August 6, after cases of lead poisoning were reported in hundreds of children from two villages near the factory.

But during a protest on Monday villagers complained the factory's coke facilities were still operational.

Baoji Mayor Dai Zhengshe ordered an immediate halt to all production on Monday.

"The workers were told not to wear uniforms to work, and workshops have been brightly lit until midnight," said a resident from Madaokou Village, which is near the plant.

Dai said coke production had not been halted immediately because of fears that remaining gas in pipelines might explode.


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