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August 18, 2009

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Villagers crash lead-plant gates

HUNDREDS of villagers on Sunday destroyed part of a smelter blamed for causing lead poisoning in 615 children in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

On the same day, a teenage girl who lived in the plant area tried to commit suicide after a blood test showed she suffered high lead levels.

The villagers smashed dozens of trucks and tore down more than 300 meters of fences at the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Fengxiang County, even though the facility has been closed since August 6. Around 100 police officers were called in to quell the protest. There was no reports of injuries or arrests.

The outburst of anger came a day after the local environmental protection authority said the smelter was mainly to blame for the children's lead poisoning but that it could not rule out other factors such as auto exhaust, home decorations, diet and living habits. Test results showed that ground water, surface water, soil and the company's waste discharges met national standards but that the lead content in the air along the main roads was high.

At least 615 of the 731 residents under age 14 who lived in the two villages closest to the plant have registered excessive lead levels in their bloodstreams.

The local government has paid for blood tests for all children under 14 and for medical treatment for those with severe lead poisoning. It has also promised to speed up the relocation of residents living near the plant. New homes were promised for those people in 2006 when the plant was built, but the move is way behind schedule.

The teen who attempted suicide on Sunday was reported to be a second-year high school student who was too old for the free tests. When her parents refused to pay for a test, she arranged one on her own, according to Xinhua news agency, which said the parents' actions contributed to her subsequent suicide try.

The test showed that the girl had a blood level of 400 micrograms per liter, four times higher than the maximum safe level. She then tried to kill herself by drinking insecticide. Her condition was not available yesterday.


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