August 20, 2009 / 8:46 AM / 10 years ago

More parents protest against lead poisoning in China

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BEIJING, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The number of Chinese children found with excess lead in their blood near a metal plant in central China has reached 1,354, state media said on Thursday, with new clashes between police and parents over pollution.

The rise in initial diagnoses of poisoning around the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Hunan province adds to a recent rash of such cases, which have exposed growing tensions between local governments and residents over pollution, often from poorly regulated plants and factories with ties to local government.

The China Daily had said almost 100 of 600 children being tested near the Wugang plant had lead-poisoning.

But later in the day the official Xinhua news agency reported close to 70 percent of 1,956 children tested had more than 100 milligrams of lead in each litre of blood. It said final tests were still needed to confirm the cases.

Parents and residents around the Wugang plant in Wenping Town, Hunan, voiced fear and anger about the threat to children who have studied at schools hundreds of metres from the site.

"We used to recruit several hundred children every year but parents have stopped sending their children here this summer," a kindergarten teacher there told Xinhua.

"Who knows, maybe our classrooms will all be empty when the new term begins next month."

A child who ingests large amounts of lead may develop anaemia, muscle weakness and brain damage. Where poisoning occurs, it is usually gradual.

RISING PUBLIC ANGER

The Chinese government has become increasingly worried about the environmental and health costs of pollution, and about rising public anger over the problem. [ID:nPEK92601]

The latest rash of cases could sow more fear.

At Wenping, about 1,000 villagers blocked a road and flipped over a police car on the night of Aug. 8 during a protest against toxins from the manganese smelter, the China Daily added.

Western Hunan is rich with metals and has many strongly polluting smelters.

"Mass incidents" — or riots and protests — sparked by environmental problems have been rising at a rate of 30 percent per year, according to China’s environmental protection minister, Zhou Shengxian.

The Wugang manganese smelter has been shut down while two of its executives have been detained by police, Xinhua said. It added that the plant opened last year without approval from environmental protection officials.

Earlier this week, state media reported protesters had broken into a smelting works they blamed for the lead poisoning of hundreds of children in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, smashing trucks and tearing down fences. [ID:nPEK192185]

More than 800 children living near the Dongling metal smelter have dangerous amounts of the heavy metal in their blood and 174 are so sick they have been admitted to hospital, state media reported. Villagers were supposed to have been moved to a new site, but that also has signs of lead contamination.

The Dongling plant, which had suspended lead smelting since late July, stopped its coke production lines after the protest. (Reporting by Yu Le and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jerry Norton)





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