BEIJING, Aug 3 (Reuters) - China closed a chemical plant after local residents in central Hunan Province protested against cadmium pollution, which killed two people and affected hundreds of others, media reported on Monday.
The closure follows a number of recent high profile "mass incidents" which turned violent and prompted media criticism of officials’ failure to respond quickly.
Two villagers near the Xianghe Chemical Factory, which had produced zinc sulfate for six years, died in May and June. Autopsies found high levels of cadmium in their bodies, the semi-official China News Agency said.
Tests conducted after their deaths found that over 500 out of nearly 3,000 local residents also had elevated levels of cadmium in their urine, it added. Around 30 people were admitted to hospital after checkups, Hong Kong media reported.
About 1,000 villagers near the plant, located near Liuyang city of Hunan province, protested last week seeking closure of the plant.
Following their protest, the plant was closed "forever", the directors detained and the head of the municipal Environment Protection Bureau sacked, the China News Agency said.
Six villagers were arrested during the protest, including one who was badly beaten by police, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper reported.
Hunan province has tended to be tougher on plants that pollute the Xiang River, on which the provincial capital, Changsha, depends for its drinking water. The provincial people’s congress requires annual reports on water quality, in another sign of the local representatives’ concern.
An environmental official admitted to heavy pollution of non-ferrous metals in the Xiang river, the financial magazine Caijing reported.
The illegal extraction of non-ferrous metals in the region has increased in recent years due to corruption, and hundreds of extraction plants are now discharging untreated chemical-laced sewage into the river, Caijing added. Vegetables grown along the river have also been found to contain high levels of cadmium, mercury and lead.
(Reporting by Yu Le and James Pomfret; Editing by Lucy Hornby and Jeremy Laurence)