Zhejiang villagers become the latest victims of lead poisoning

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

More than 130 villagers in Zhejiang - including at least 35 children aged between 14 months and 10 years - are suffering from lead poisoning caused by a battery factory in the latest toxic metal pollution scandal to hit the mainland.

About 500 residents in three villages around the plant in Taizhou's Jiaojiang district have had blood tests in the past month and a half and authorities admitted that by Wednesday afternoon, at least 139 of the tests showed excessive levels of lead in blood, Xinhua reported. More villagers are likely to test positive for lead poisoning as nearby hospitals are now offering blood tests to anxious residents. The authorities promised free medical care for villagers suffering from lead poisoning.

The Taizhou city government issued a press release on Wednesday saying that a storage battery factory just a few metres from the villages was responsible for the poisoning. But no officials have been punished despite national regulations banning the building of battery factories within 500 metres of residents. The lead poisoning was discovered last month after a villager noticed that her 14-month-old baby was crying and sleeping badly. She took the baby to a hospital, where blood tests found twice the recommended maximum level of lead.

Concern spread to neighbouring villagers, with more people finding poisoning cases.

In January, over 200 children fell ill with lead poisoning from emissions by a battery factory in Anhui's Huaining county. In August, more than 600 children in Fengxiang county, Shaanxi, were found with excessive levels of lead in their blood. In October, nearly 1,000 children tested positive for lead poisoning in Jiyuan, Henan .

Taizhou authorities said the factory began production in 2005 and illegally discharged lead-contaminated water that polluted nearby groundwater, soil, air and agricultural produce. The factory was ordered to close on March 16.

The authorities warned nearby residents not to eat local agricultural produce or drink untreated water.

'We were against the setting up of this factory because we were so worried it would hurt our health,' Xinhua quoted one villager as saying.

Taizhou villager Chen Chao said it was a nightmare. 'When watching television news about heavy metal poisoning in other provinces, I thought it was far away from our life. Now it's come true in Taizhou and it's hurting our children. The officials should be punished for this.'

In one of the most serious toxic metal pollution scandals on the mainland in recent years, at least 10 villagers have died of cadmium and indium poisoning caused by pollution from a chemical factory in Zhentou, Hunan , since August 2009. Almost 600 people were affected by exposure to the metals.

Thousands of residents have taken to the streets and clashed with authorities at least nine times. Soil and agricultural produce was contaminated and several people were detained by police. Local authorities sold off the chemical factory, but villagers were not offered free medical care or compensation.