China to move residents from lead smelter base-report

BEIJING Sun Oct 18, 2009 8:27pm EDT

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BEIJING Oct 19 (Reuters) - China will move 15,000 residents living near the country's biggest lead smelter base after more than 1,000 children were found to have excessive amounts of the metal in their blood, a Chinese newspaper reported.

The weekend edition of the English-language China Daily said the residents of Jiyuan in central Henan province would be relocated from the smelters, which have become a source of local discontent and another symbol of China's often unbridled industrial growth.

Chinese state media reported last week that over 1,000 children in Jiyuan had excessive levels of lead in their blood. The smelter operator, Yuguang Gold and Lead (600531.SS), said its plants bore some responsibility. [ID:nPEK331271]

A child exposed to heavy concentrations of lead can develop anaemia, muscle weakness and brain damage, and a rash of reported poisonings across several Chinese provinces has raised pressure on officials and companies to deal with the problem.

The mayor of Jiyuan, Zhao Suping, said 15,000 people in 10 villagers around the plants would move at a total cost of about 1 billion yuan ($150 million), allowing the lead plants to keep operating, the China Daily reported.

Not all locals had been mollified, said the paper.

"I am not satisfied with the current steps by the government," said one resident, surnamed Li, according to the paper. She said her two granddaughters were found to have lead levels far above safe limits.

"I think the government should respond faster and do more to prevent similar cases from occurring."

After the people move, the smelters will rent their abandoned land and plant trees to serve as a barrier protecting nearby villages, the report said.

An official in one of the villagers set to move said the residents were likely to be shifted to a site 4 km (miles) from their present homes. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Dean Yates)

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