HONG KONG—More than 1,300 children have been poisoned by lead from a year-old manganese factory in China’s central Hunan province, official media said, on the heels of another lead-poisoning scandal in nearby Shaanxi province.
The mass lead contamination in Wenping township, Hunan province, has led to charges that authorities have failed to adequately regulate toxins. Official media said it had opened in May last year without approval from local environmental authorities.
Sixty to 70 percent of children living near the factory showed unhealthy levels of lead in their blood, the official Xinhua news agency said.
A total of 851 children were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood, Xinhua news agency said. It said 155 children were still receiving hospital treatment, out of a total of 174 cases requiring hospitalization.
Authorities closed the factory, located near a kindergarten, primary school, and middle school, and detained two executives on suspicion of "causing severe environment pollution.”
An employee at the Wugang municipal government, contacted by telephone, said Wednesday that the manganese factory had been closed.
“The manganese mine has been shut down. Lead poison from industrial pollution is quite common in China. Our municipal leaders attached great importance to this incident and have taken many measures to deal with it,” the city employee, who asked to be identified by his surname, Huang, said.
“Wugang city has posted a notice in Hengjiang village, indicating that all residents who live within 2.5 kms of the manganese factory can go to the designated clinics to have medical exams and the government will pay for the cost. The municipal government has begun an investigation on the factory and whoever is responsible for the pollution will be held accountable,” he said.
Yang Xin, an environmental activist from Chengdu, Sichuan province, said this latest incident of lead poisoning—along with another reported last week in Shaanxi—show that China’s small- and medium-sized mining enterprises must be overhauled.
“Many small- and medium-sized mining enterprises face similar problems such as shortage of money and lack of technology,” Yang said.
“They are usually privately owned and operated and their owners seek profits only and care little about environmental protection. There is a trend that such phenomena are spreading out from China’s coastal areas to the mid-west regions.”
Some employ local residents, including children, who know little about industrial pollution. “They’re easy prey,” he said.
Protesters recently stormed the Dongling smelting works in Shaanxi, which they blamed for the lead poisoning of 851 children.
The Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. was ordered by environmental protection authorities in Fengxiang county to suspend lead and zinc production Aug. 6 following a public outcry.
Fengxiang county government has offered free blood tests for 1,016 children aged 14 and under from three villages of Changqing Township, official media reported.
Original reporting by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translation by Feng Xiaoming. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.