BEIJING, Aug. 13 -- Operation of a smelting plant blamed for the lead poisoning of more than 300 children has been suspended in Northwest China.
He Hongnian, deputy head of Fengxiang county in Shaanxi province, said the environmental protection bureau in Baoji ordered the closure of the plant on Aug 6, about two weeks after the first lead poisoning case was reported.
Environmental protection officials in Shaanxi province have collected samples of groundwater, soil, air and sewage at 28 monitoring points near the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co.
"The factory has not been closed down. It has been suspended and is under investigation by environmental experts. We are waiting for the results of the investigation to decide what measures will be taken," said a spokesman of the Fengxiang county investigation team.
Doctors at the county hospital first diagnosed gastritis resulting from lead ingestion after 6-year-old Miao Fan from Changqing, where the plant is located, was admitted in July.
Her case sparked widespread fear among residents, who rushed their children to hospital for blood tests.
Almost 1,000 children from all three villages in Changqing town received checkups to assess the lead content in their blood, with about 300 having excessive lead.
The county government promised Friday that free treatment would be offered to the children and began health examinations of all children in the town.
"All the blood samples will be taken to Xi'an and the test results will be known in three to five days," said Guo Baoke, an industrial illness specialist from Xi'an Central Hospital in the provincial capital.
Lu Yong, a doctor at the same hospital where the children were examined, said the poisoning is curable as the levels of lead can be lowered.
Excessive amounts of lead in the body can harm the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and anemia. In severe cases, it can lead to convulsions, coma and even death.
Guo said children were more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults and medical intervention is necessary when blood-lead levels exceed 250 mg per liter.
Tests on the children showed their levels ranged from 100 to 400 mg per liter.
The smelting plant belongs to Dongling Group, one of the biggest private companies in Shaanxi province. It began operating in 2006, producing 100,000 tons of lead and zinc and 700,000 tons of coke annually.
The plant directly accounted for 17 percent of the county's GDP last year.
Its general manager, Sun Hong, said the county government had pledged, in a deal reached before the plant was opened, to relocate all residents living within a radius of 500 meters within three years.
"But the relocation is way behind schedule," said Pu Yiming, chief of Changqing town. "Of all the 581 families that should have been relocated by now, only 156 have moved to new homes."
At a press conference Tuesday, the county government promised intervention to speed up relocation.
"We will ensure that all the remaining 425 families are relocated within two years," said deputy head He.
"The government has started building houses for the remainder of the families within a diameter of 1 km from the factory," Wang Mingming, director of the publicity department of Fengxiang county, told China Daily.
About 30 sickbeds at Fengixiang Hospital are ready to receive confirmed cases of lead poisoning, he said.
(Source: China Daily)