03/06/2010, 00.00
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Smelter that poisoned soil and children restarts production in Shaanxi

Emissions from a smelting plant polluted its surrounding area and caused illnesses in 600 children. Following protests, it was shut down in August, but it is now back in operation. Meanwhile, Premier Wen tries to reassure people that the government is doing its utmost against pollution.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A lead smelter restarted production in Shaanxi province. The Dong Ling Lead and Zinc Smelting Company has been blamed for poisoning the ground around one of its plant and causing illnesses in at least 600 children living near it. Despite strong opposition among local residents, it reopened ten days ago, but news of the event became public only yesterday.

The smelter was shut down in August of last year after hundreds of angry parents from the villages of  Madaokou, Gaozuitou and Sunjianantou (Fengxiang County) laid siege to it, concerned about its impact on their children’s health. Armed police were sent in to quell the protest; a wall and a dozen vehicles were damaged.

In his government work report to the National People’s Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged yesterday to strengthen measures against polluters and crack down on heavy metal poisoning.

Pollution is a major cause of social unrest in China. Each year, tens of thousands of incidents of mass protest occur as a result of extensive industrial pollution and complacent authorities.

Yang Tagu, who lives in Sunjianantou, told the South China Morning Post that despite massive protests the local government has simply ignored the concerns of people like himself and his neighbours.

He is also upset by the authorities who rely on certain data to claim that pollution is within tolerable levels, when in fact other data shows otherwise.

In the meantime, residents are hard pressed just surviving because they cannot earn a living from farming, since the land is contaminated, and cannot find new employment because there are no other  job opportunities in the area. They cannot even leave the place because of housing shortages elsewhere.

Residents from the three affected villages did get a 260 yuan (US$ 40) special allowance last month, Yang said. However, they “have no idea where the money transferred to our accounts” came from, “whether it is offered by the local administration or Dongling, or someone else,” he said. “One thing is for sure, they want us to remain silent when the factory resumes production this month.”

Whenever residents requested action by local authorities, they consistently go the silent treatment.

Some residents have taken the matter to the courts and sued the company for damages suffered by their children, but their application was turned down, ostensibly for “lack of evidence”.

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