China has closed a factory in its northwest which is suspected of causing lead poisoning in more than 300 children, state media said on Wednesday.
China’s pollution and lax product safety standards have long been a source of tension and unrest, particularly when parents or residents of pollution hotspots — dubbed “cancer villages” because of high rates of the disease — feel their worries are being ignored.
The sick children all live near the Changqing industrial park in Shaanxi province and parents have pointed at a lead and zinc smelting plant inside.
The Changqing county government was supposed to help relocate villagers living close by in 2006, but the plan is running behind schedule.
“We live only 200 metres from the smelting firm. Lead pollution is certain,” Xinhua news agency quoted villager Sun Yagang, whose 2-year-old son suffered from lead poisoning, as saying.
The report said the smelter, producing lead, zinc and coke, opened in 2006 and accounted for 17 percent of the county’s GDP.
So far, less than half of the 581 households near the plant have moved, and those left behind say they cannot afford new houses.
“The relocation is way behind schedule,” Pu Yiming, chief of Changqing town, was quoted as saying. “Of all the 581 families that should have been relocated by now, only 156 have moved to new homes.”
The government has pledged to relocate the remaining families within the next two year, the report added.
A child who swallows large amounts of lead may develop anaemia, muscle weakness and brain damage. Where poisoning occurs, it is usually gradual.
Cases involving children are particularly sensitive in a country where many families have only one son or daughter. China was shaken last year by a tainted milk scandal, that killed at least six children and made tens of thousands of others ill.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sugita Katyal)