08/24/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing investigates culprits behind lead poisoning. But orders new analysis

Health and environment officials in Hunan and Shaanxi to establish responsibility. Henan imposes halt on industries that do not meet environmental standards. Wenping factory closed down, two plant managers arrested. Residents concerns about the decision to carry out counter-analysis of poisoned children.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) Beijing health and environment officials are investigating those responsible for lead poisoning that, in recent weeks, has affected thousands of children in the central provinces of Hunan and Shaanxi. The central authorities have also imposed a cut in production in the province of Henan, the most important area for the lead refining in China.

In Shaanxi at least 615 tests on 731 children in two villages not far from the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting refinery in the town of Changqing, showed a blood lead level higher than allowed.   In Wenping, a town in Hunan, the Wugang Manganese refinery caused the poisoning of over 1300 children, 70% of whom are younger than 14 years. They attend kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools about 500 meters from the plant. The complex started production in May, without the approval of the local environmental protection agency.

Both episodes have generated riots and social unrest among the population, tired of employer abuse and the complicity of local officials. The dual case of poisoning shows the flaws in the rapid industrial growth registered by China over the last 30 years. The poorest and least developed regions of the country have been worst affected, where many heavily polluting factories have mushroomed, with no respect for environmental standards.  

Hit by a new wave of scandals, the central authorities have promised to crack down on poisoning. The Wenping factory has been closed, two plant executives arrested, while a third has fled to avoid capture. Two officials from the local department of environmental protection are under investigation for omitted control. The Henan provincial government has ordered  a halt to lead refining for industries that do not meet Chinese environmental standards. A third of local businesses risk closure.

Meanwhile Hunan authorities have imposed a second set of tests on poisoned children in order to assess the threshold for lead in blood. The decision has surprised many among local inhabitants who - on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals - are questioning the real reasons that have lead authorities to order a counter analysis. Blood tests will be performed in a hospital in Changsha, capital of Chinese central province.

 
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