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August 13, 2009

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Offending lead smelter closed

A SHAANXI Province smelting plant suspected of discharging waste that caused lead poisoning in at least 300 children has been closed, authorities said yesterday.

They also revealed that a plan to move residents away from the plant was way behind schedule.

The environmental protection bureau in Baoji City ordered the closure of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Fengxiang County plant last Thursday, about two weeks after the first lead poisoning case was reported in six-year-old Miao Fan, county deputy chief He Hongnian said.

Doctors at the county hospital found that the child suffered from an inflamed stomach resulting from lead ingestion after Miao, who lived near the plant, was admitted in late July.

Fear abounds

Her case sparked widespread fear among residents, who rushed their children to hospitals for blood tests. More than 300 lead poisoning cases had been reported as of Sunday, with lead levels ranging from 100 to 400 micrograms per liter. Normal levels are below 100 micrograms.

Among the victims, villager Sun Yagang said his two-year-old son had lost his appetite and had been sweating badly since May. Tests indicated the boy had a blood lead level of 284 mg per liter.

"We live only 200 meters from the smelter. Lead pollution is certain," Sun said.

The county government promised on Friday that free treatment would be offered to the children and began health examinations.

Excessive amounts of lead can harm the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and anemia. In severe cases, lead ingestion can lead to convulsions, coma and even death.

The plant's general manager, Sun Hong, said the county government had pledged, in a deal reached before the plant was opened, to relocate all residents living within 500 meters in three years. But the relocation is way behind schedule.

"We will ensure that all the remaining 425 families are relocated within two years," said county deputy chief He.


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