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China closes factory after 300 children poisoned
Published on: 2009-08-13
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BEIJING — Authorities in northern China Wednesday announced the closure of a smelting plant blamed for the lead poisoning of at least 300 children, state media reported.

The children, all living near the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. plant in Changqing, Shaanxi province, were found to have as much as four times the normal maximum level of lead in their blood, Xinhua news agency said.

Nearly 1,000 children had now been tested and their results would be known in three to five days, it said.

It was not immediately clear how the children were poisoned but officials have been taking samples of groundwater, soil, air and sewage to check for contamination, and there was no mention of adult sickness.

Local county deputy head He Hongnian said the closure of the plant had been ordered on August 6, two weeks after a six-year-old girl was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Anxious parents rushed their children to hospital for blood tests, with more than 300 lead poisoning cases reported by Sunday.

The lead levels in their blood ranged from 100 milligrams to 400 milligrams per litre, compared with normal levels of between zero and 100 milligrams, Xinhua said.

Above 200 milligrams is considered hazardous, with children more vulnerable to lead poisoning which can harm the nervous system.

"We live only 200 metres (660 feet) from the smelting firm. Lead pollution is certain," villager Sun Yagang, whose two-year-old son was diagnosed with lead poisoning, told Xinhua.

Residents who lived within 500 metres of the plant were supposed to have been relocated but so far only 156 out of nearly 581 families had been able to move to new homes, Xinhua said, citing Changqing town chief Pu Yiming.

The county government promised to speed up the relocation.

"We will ensure that all the remaining 425 families are relocated within two years," deputy county head He was quoted as saying.

Many poverty-stricken regions in China's interior have introduced high-polluting industries without the necessary environmental evaluation, in a desperate bid to boost economic growth, state media has said.

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