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August 11, 2009

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Villagers seek to flee polluted area

THE villagers in a northwestern China county where excessive lead levels were found in hundreds of children's blood are considering an exodus to escape pollution.

Now, 425 families living within 1 kilometer from the alleged polluting factory, Dangling Smelting Co, expect the government to relocate them to safer places, Chengdu Business Daily reported yesterday.

Yet according to Pu Yiming, the chief of Changqing Township in Shaanxi Province, the relocation would take at least four years.

The villagers are concerned that their lives would be adversely affected by pollution during the four years.

Even residents who have undergone relocation believe the distance from the plant of 1,000 meters is still not safe.

Zhang Guangyuan was among the first batch of relocated residents. The 76-year-old said two kids of his neighbor were detected with excessive lead in their blood even though they were living at least 1 kilometer from the smelting plant.

School concerns

Shaanxi Province's health department has sent medical staff to Madaokou Village and Sunjianantou Village in Fengxiang County to collect and test blood samples of children aged under 14.

The tests are expected to be completed next week, yet more than 300 children have been confirmed to have excessive lead in their blood so far.

High lead levels in the blood of young children can cause permanent learning disabilities, behavioral problems and stunt growth, according to medical experts.

"Children first," said a parent of a sick child. The villagers are trying to get their kids away from the pollution by transferring them to schools elsewhere.

Ma Shengqing, a villager in Madaokou, is seeking a school out of the county for his 13-year-old son.

This will cost him more than 6,000 yuan (US$878) every year in tuition fees, almost half of Ma's yearly salary. It was almost free for his son to go to school in his own county.

"This is not a place for humans," said Ma.

The company has refused to comment on the matter, saying the government is handling the case. The firm "is offering help in the investigations," it said.


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