by Xinhua writers Lin Wei and Cheng Zhiliang
ZHENGZHOU, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- The government of Jiyuan, China's biggest lead smelting base, plans to move 15,000 residents away from the threat of lead poisoning, after nearly 1,000 children were tested to have excessive lead in blood.
Zhao Suping, mayor of the city in central Henan Province, said Friday the mass relocation would cost 1 billion yuan, of which 70 percent will be undertaken by the government and smelters and the other 30 percent by local residents.
The government is now looking for sites for the resettlement, said Zhao.
The health bureau of Jiyuan initiated blood tests for children on Aug. 20 in the wake of a lead poisoning scandal was exposed in the neighboring Shaanxi Province.
The mass lead poisoning in Henan, and earlier this year in Shaanxi, Hunan and Yunnan, have sickened thousands of children, which sheds light once again on the dilemma facing many parts of China as industrial development poses threat to the environment and people's health.
WELCOME TURNS INTO COMPLAINT
Besides mass relocation expenditure and damage on local people's health, smelters in Jiyuan also face complaints from local residents.
Yang Anguo, board chairman of China's biggest lead smelter Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, had mixed feelings when he saw local villagers gathered to protest in front of his plant.
Yang still clearly remembers the scene that local residents beat drums and gongs to welcome the factory to their land 23 years ago.
Over the past two decades, Yuguang Gold and Lead Group has grown from a plant with an annual output of about 10 million yuan into the world's second largest lead smelter with an annual sales of more than 10 billion yuan.
Local villagers in Jiyuan had been in good relations with lead smelters, as many of them were employed by the group and paid well. However, the relations have turned sour.
In Shiniu Village, which is near Wanyang Smeltery Group and has seen about 100 children poisoned, 60-year-old Wang Shaozhou was worried about his grandson.
"A few people got rich, but the whole village in poisoned. How can we ignore people's health in the process of economic development?" Wang said.
More than 10,000 people in this city with a population of 670,000 are directly employed in the city's 35 lead smelters, and more than 20,000 others work indirectly for the smelters.
"In the pursuit of wealth, neither the company nor local people have given due attention to pollution. The incident (of excessive lead level) is a lesson for the government, company and local people," said Yu Bo, an official with the Jiyuan city government.
RESPONSE FROM GOVERNMENT
The city government has provided blood tests for 2,743 children under the age of 14, who lived near three major smelters, and 968 of them had excessive lead levels.
It has also suspended production at 32 of the 35 electrolytic lead plants and on the pollution-prone production lines of the other three major plants.
Environment protection inspectors were stationed in the three big plants: Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, Wanyang Smeltery Group and Jinli Smelting.
All children living within 1,000 meters of the smelters had been moved away, with allowances and assistance in education provided by the government.
The government also organized a trip by representatives of villagers to Fengxiang of Shaanxi Province, in a move to ease the villagers' anxieties.
Jiyuan was considered "seriously polluted" in 2003 and listed as the second worst among all cities in Henan Province, which was an alarm for local authorities and enterprises, said Mayor Zhao Suping.
The city decided to eliminate the sintering pot techniques, which usually cause serious environmental pollution, in all lead smelters in 2004, and began to close down backward production facilities in the cement, iron and power industries in the following year.
So far, the air quality in Jiyuan has been rated as "good" over the past three years, said Zhao.
The mayor said that the city was planning to reduce the amount of lead in waste gases from lead smelters by nearly half.