08/23/2012, 00.00
CHINA
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Power plant causes lead poisoning in hundreds of children in Xingzi

by Chen Weijun
Residents take to the streets to have power plant shut down. For years, it pumped lead into children's blood. The authorities close the plant but try to cover up the damages, igniting an even angrier popular response. Analysts and even state newspapers warn that limit has been reached and a new balance between the economy and the environment must be found.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of residents in northern Guangdong have been fighting local authorities in Xingzi, after accusing them of covering up pollution in the area by a power station. Residents are especially angry at the official tally that claims only 18 severe lead poisoning cases when in fact hundreds of children are suffering.

In May, word spread online that many children in Xingzi Township, near the Lianzhou power plant, had tested positive for lead contamination, apparently caused by pollutants from the power station that fouled the air and contaminated the water.

After a month of protests, the authorities closed the plant and launched an official enquiry. However, their findings were met with anger.

An article published by the China Business News revealed that on a single street, 196 children tested positive for excessive lead, 95 samples exceeding 450mg per litre.

A level of more than 200mg is considered hazardous, and medical studies indicate that such concentrations can impair children's mental health and affect their growth.

Li Fuzhong, who runs a bottled-water and beverage shop on Dongsheng Road in the township, told the South China Morning Post that more than 90 per cent of the children he knew-including two of his grandchildren and neighbours in his community-had been poisoned.

Although the power plant's operations have been suspended, villagers are worried it may resume production when all the fuss dies down.

In mainland China, pollution has become the latest way ordinary Chinese fight back against the abuses and illegalities by local Communist officials.

Tired of illegal confiscations and fed up with threats to their health from unbridled industrialisation, people around the country are taking to the streets to tell the authorities not to sacrifice their lives on the altar of economic growth.

The problem is so widespread that China's press is allowed to investigate individual case, like Xingzi. This shows the authorities are quite conscious of the dangerousness of the situation for social stability.

Various Chinese analysts note that protests in Qidong and Shifang, which ended with a victory for residents against corporate interests, are a sign that industrial development at any cost is no longer sustainable.

Even the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official daily newspaper, acknowledged the authorities' failure to "establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism" on environmental issue.

After this October party congress, the party's new leaders should find a solution.

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