Hundreds sickened by China chemical plant

In Asia, News Headlines, Pollution

More than 500 people have been sickened by pollution from a chemical plant in central China that has also been blamed for two deaths, state media reported Monday.

Health checks on nearly 3,000 people living near the plant in Liuyang county, Hunan province, revealed 509 had excessive levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal, Xinhua news agency said, quoting Zhou Mengde, a local official investigating the incident.

“Among the sickened, 33 need to be hospitalised. The government will cover the medical cost of their treatment,” he said.

The authorities have suspended two local environmental officials and detained the head of the plant following a protest last week by 1,000 residents, state media reported at the weekend.

Residents said they had petitioned since 2007 for an investigation of the plant but the local authorities had failed to take action, Xinhua reported.

The protestors demanded free health check-ups, free medical treatment and compensation for ruined crops and land.

The plant, which was plagued by environmental problems, was ordered to stop production in April. Protests erupted after the deaths of two people in May and June were found to have been caused by cadmium, Xinhua said.

Zhou said the government would buy the affected crops and livestock, with specific compensation measures to come later.

Rapid economic growth in recent decades and routine flouting of rules have taken their toll on China’s environment, activists say.

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