Authorities in southern and eastern China have launched an investigation into the operations of two battery factories after dozens of children were tested for lead poisoning in recent weeks.
Guangdong authorities sent a specialist medical team to the province's Heyuan city this week to treat dozens of children who had been tested for lead in the wake of complaints about pollution from a nearby battery factory, official media reported.
"The local media haven't reported the issue of pollution," said a resident of Zijin county, near Heyuan. "There is widespread water pollution in the East River."
"Most people don't use the water from there for drinking, but they are still worried that the water could have been absorbed by fruit and vegetables," she said.
"We hope the authorities will really crack down on these polluting enterprises."
The fears over lead pollution prompted dozens of families to travel to the provincial capital, Guangzhou, to have their children's blood tested, the English-language China Daily newspaper reported.
"All the victims are from Daling village in the Linjiang township of Zijin county under the administration of Heyuan," it said.
"Daling village, which has a total of 329 registered households, is located near the Sunnway Battery Co., the company suspected of being responsible for the lead poisoning."
Calls to the Sunnway Battery Co. went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
The company was set up in 1993 and currently has branches in Heyuan and Shenzhen, according to its website.
Its core business is the manufacture of car batteries, and its products have won a number of awards and are now exported to more than 35 countries and regions, it said.
Plant boss detained
Meanwhile, authorities in Zhejiang province detained the boss of a similar plant on Monday after more than 300 people, including 99 children, were sickened by lead pollution.
According to a statement from the local government, 53 people were hospitalized after tests found that 332 residents in Deqing, near a factory making lead-acid motorcycle batteries, had elevated levels of lead in their blood.
Most of those affected were workers or family members of workers at the Zhejiang Haijiu Battery factory, which has been ordered to suspend operations in Deqing.
State media reports have said that the company has pledged to pay for treatment for those sickened by the lead emissions.
Excessive amounts of lead in the blood can damage the digestive, nervous, and reproductive systems and cause stomach aches, anemia, and convulsions.
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.
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 local levels.
Reported by Bi Zimo for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.