MAC: Mines and Communities

Chinese parents outraged at lead poisoning of their children

Published by MAC on 2009-08-25

Public outrage at the Chinese authorities' failure to close down a notoriously polluting lead smelter in Shaanxi province, has resulted in clashes between parents and police.

Officially, more than 600 children have been poisoned by emissions from the plant - and the figure is almost certain to rise.

Almost incredibly, this wasn't the only - nor indeed the worst - such revelation last month.

More than 1,300 children have also been diagnosed as suffered various degrees of lead contamination from a manganese smelter in Hunan province.

China says 1,300 sick in new lead poisoning case


20 August 2009

BEIJING - More than 1,300 children have been sickened by lead poisoning in central China, the second such case involving a large number of children this month, state media said Thursday.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 1,354 children - or nearly 70 percent of the children tested - who lived near a manganese processing plant in Wenping township in Hunan province were found to have excessive lead in their blood.

Local authorities shut down the Hunan smelter last week and detained two of its executives on suspicion of "causing severe environment pollution," Xinhua said. General manager Liu Zhongwu was still at large, it said.

A staffer from the Wenping township government office who declined to give his name said the numbers are expected to rise as more children are tested.

Calls to local health offices rang unanswered Thursday.

It is the latest case showing serious environmental problems caused by China's economic growth. For decades, many Chinese companies dumped poisons into rivers and the ground rather than disposing them safely, counting on the acquiescence of local governments unwilling to damage their economic lifelines.

Earlier this week in a separate case, villagers in northern Shaanxi province clashed with police and government officials as they protested the operations of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in the town of Changqing.

At least 615 out of 731 children in two villages near that smelter tested positive for lead poisoning, which can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss. Children from six other villagers there are now being tested.

In the Hunan case, the children are from four villages near the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Wenping, Xinhua said. It said the children are being tested again in the provincial capital, Changsha, to see how serious their cases are.

As of Thursday, Changsha health authorities had results for 83 cases: 17 were found to have "moderate poisoning" with between 250 and 499 milligrams of lead per liter of blood, 28 as "slight poisoning" with 200 to 249 mg., and 38 others with 100 to 199 mg., Xinhua said.

It quoted Huang Wenbin, deputy environment chief in Wugang, as saying the plant opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau.

It said a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten were within 500 yards (meters) of the plant.

Fears of lead poisoning began to spread among villagers in early July when many children became susceptible to colds and suffered fevers and other ailments, Xinhua said.

More parents protest against lead poisoning in China


20 August 2009

BEIJING - 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.


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

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)


Apology over China lead poisoning


20 August 2009

A senior official of a northern Chinese city where hundreds of children were poisoned by lead from a smelter, has apologised.

The apology came a day after clashes were reported between angry parents and local police.

Earlier this week hundreds of villagers whose children were affected by the leaching of lead from a local smelter stormed the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co plant in Changqing town, tearing down fences and blocking traffic outside the factory.
About 80 per cent of the children in two villages near the plant had tested positive for lead poisoning, some of them with lead levels 10 times the level considered safe in China.

A few hundred children in a third village, Luobosi, were being tested for lead poisoning on Tuesday.

Authorities shut down the factory on Tuesday citing safety reasons, following protests in the latest sign of growing anger over the country's rampant industrial pollution.
Official assurance

Dai Zhengshe, the mayor of Baoji city, who arrived at the plant on Monday, gave his assurance that the plant will not be reopened until health standards are met, China's official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday.

"We had to make sure the gas in the pipeline was exhausted before the plant was finally shut down," he said.

Security remained tight at the plant, with about 100 policemen guarding the compound and on standby in police buses outside, according to The Associated Press reports.

A man surnamed Ma from Madaokou, the other of the badly affected villages located about 500 metres from the factory, said residents believed at least two villagers were taken from their homes by police on Monday night.

He said the Baoji city government sent officials to his village on Tuesday to try to pacify residents.

"They wanted to persuade us not to cause trouble, but they didn't provide any solution to our problems," Ma told The Associated Press.

Xinhua said the villagers had been enraged by the smelting plant's defiance of the August 6 order to suspend operations.

The smelter, in northwestern Shaanxi province, opened in 2006 and residents living within 500 metres were supposed to have been relocated by this year.

Besides the 100,000-tonne plant, the Dongling Group, which is China's fourth-biggest zinc producer, also runs two other zinc lines in a separate area of Shaanxi, with a combined annual capacity of 150,000 tonnes.

A company source told Reuters the smelter had been shut for repairs since late July.


Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure, anaemia and memory loss.

It is especially harmful to young children, pregnant women and foetuses, and the damage is usually irreversible, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Following the outrage, authorities promised to relocate hundreds of families within two years with the building of new homes about 5km from the plant starting last week, but residents were not reassured.

Parents of more than 600 children found excessive levels of lead in their blood [AFP]
Deng Xiaoyan, a farmer in Sunjianantou, one of the affected villages, said a recent test showed her three-year-old daughter had high levels of lead.

"If they relocate us to these nearby places, who can guarantee that our babies will be safe?" she said.

She said she thought those houses would still be too close.

"There is lead in the air, the air is polluted, everything is polluted," she said.
Dr Pascal Haefliger, a health and environment expert with the WHO in Geneva, said lead stays in the body for years after exposure and continues to affect brain development and the nervous system in growing children.

"Medical treatment exists, but will not be successful in removing all the lead from the body," he said.

China's pollution and lax product safety standards have long been a source of tension and unrest, particularly when residents of pollution hotspots - dubbed "cancer villages" because of high disease rates - feel they are being ignored.

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