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Poisoning blamed on old equipment

A SENIOR official in southern China said today that dilapidated environment protection equipment was mainly to blame for a lead poisoning crisis that sickened more than 40 people at the Huanjiang steel plant in Hechi City.

Forty workers were identified in a overall health checkup by the end of June. Those with excessive lead levels were immediately sent to hospital. All had recovered, Chen Wu, vice chairman of the region told a news conference.

This was the third lead poisoning case in China since June following incidents in Hunan and Shaanxi provinces that sickened more than 2,000 children.
The lead pollution scares sparked checks on lead-related smelters in Hunan, Shaanxi and Guangxi.

The Guangxi case was revealed when a worker surnamed Tan had a health checkup and found elevated lead levels in his urine sample. He then asked 30 coworkers to take the checkup, 29 of whom were found sick.

The factory officials then organized an overall health check on all its employees, and more than 40 of them were found sick.

Local residents have long complained about working conditions in the steel mill and the pollution it discharged, according to the province's news portal.

The Huanjiang factory was added to the list of steel plants that needed to be shut down in 2008 because it did not meet environmental standards, according to the report.

Production in the factory has now been halted. It would not be allowed to open again until the overhaul of its equipment and installation of environmental protection facilities were complete.

Shaanxi Province shut down a smelting plant amid public anger over heavy metal discharges by the factory that left 851 children ill last month. Before that, central China's Hunan Province shut down a smelter and detained two of its executives after more than 1,300 local children suffered from lead poisoning.


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