Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan vowed on Wednesday to scrap permanently a high profile copper-processing plant after two days of violent protests, as parents in the eastern province of Jiangxi call for the closure of a factory they say is linked to high lead levels in their children's blood.
The city government said late on Tuesday that the U.S. $1.6 billion project was now canceled.
"Shifang from this day forward will not build this project," Shifang Communist Party chief Li Chengjing said in a statement.
The news came as parents in Jiangxi's Ji'an city said at least a dozen of their children had levels of lead in their blood that were well over government safety limits.
"There are people protesting on the main road, several hundred of them," said an employee at the Jitan Industrial Park in Ji'an who declined to be named. "They are blocking the road."
"The people have a big complaint because their kids are sick and the parents are worried," the employee said.
"They are surrounding vehicles in protest, and now the police have come," the employee said, adding that the production had now ceased at a number of factories in the park, pending an investigation into the source of the pollution.
"I don't know where the problem lies, they don't know the source," the employee added. "There are three or four factories in this park that have halted production."
The Jitan industrial park is home to a medicine factory, a chemical plant, a cement factory, a paper factory, and a metals-processing plant.
Local residents complained in July 2010 of sickening smells issuing from the Haizhou medicine factory and thick smoke from the cement factory, as well as polluted waste from the Mingsheng paper plant.
However, they were told by local environmental protection officials that all of the factories in the park had passed environmental safety tests.
Posts on China's popular Sina Weibo microblogging service said that "tens" of local children now had lead levels far beyond permitted limits in recent blood tests.
"One three-year-old can't talk or walk; a disaster caused by industrial pollution," read one post. "Please save us."
"When the parents tried to get their children tested at the hospital, the doors were locked in their faces," it said. "That is why there are people blocking the road."
A person who answered the phone at the Ji'an municipal health bureau declined to comment on the reports.
"The person in charge isn't here, and I don't really know about this," the person said. "I am just hanging out here."
An industrial park office employee surnamed Wang said the children's test results hadn't been carried out by an expert, and had been mistaken the first time around.
He said the Ji'an government was "extremely concerned" about the incident, and had set up a special task force to get all the local children tested.
Two children had showed higher-than-normal results for lead levels, but that they had proved "normal after a repeat test," he said.
"The pollution here isn't that bad," Wang said. "The environmental protection department has already made an announcement."
Calls to the municipal government went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Battery makers and lead and zinc smelting plants have been blamed for a wave of lead poisoning cases affecting thousands of children across China in recent years, sometimes sparking violent protests.
Back in Shifang, local people were seemingly taking no chances over plans for metals smelting in their neighborhood.
Police stood guard over hundreds of people gathered in Sichuan's Shifang city on Wednesday following a vocal campaign against the planned copper-molybdenum plant which was followed closely online by millions.
"I should think there are a few hundred people standing there, calling for the release of detainees," a Shifang resident surnamed Feng said on Wednesday.
The government said on Tuesday it would release 21 out of 27 people detained during the unrest, said a Shifang resident surnamed Chen.
"There are six people who won't be released," she added. "They said this on the TV and in the newspapers."
Ordinary Chinese people are becoming increasingly active in support of environmental issues in recent years, and the protests in Shifang garnered cautious support from an official state-run newspaper on Wednesday.
"There is nothing wrong with residents expressing their concerns about the risks to their health and the local environment," the English-language China Daily said in an editorial.
"There are plenty of examples of industrial projects that increased the revenue of a local government but made people ill and destroyed the local environment," the paper said.
Activists say that China has an exemplary set of environmental protection legislation, but that environmental officials lack the power to impose it on powerful vested interests at the local level.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.