Factory to blame for lead levels, villagers say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am


Excessive lead levels have been found in the blood of workers at a motorcycle battery factory in Deqing county, Zhejiang, and dozen of villagers living nearby.

At least 19 children in the nearby village of Mengxi have suffered lead poisoning, with blood tests showing lead levels as high as 484 micrograms per litre, far in excess of the recommended maximum in China of 100 micrograms, Xinhua reported yesterday. The youngest victim was just five months old. More than 100 villagers have had blood tests since March, it reported, with some adults found to have blood lead levels as high as 590 micrograms per litre.

Hu Linchang, who owns an internet cafe in the town of Xinshi and lives less than four kilometres from Mengxi, said there had been rumours about lead poisoning since the Haijiu Battery factory moved into the area a few years ago, but people were now starting to panic.

'I went to the barbershop and the barber talked about it,' he said. 'I had lunch with my friends in a restaurant and my friends talked about it. I returned home this afternoon and my daughter told me she was taking my granddaughter to hospital to check for lead in her blood.'

Hu said he was most worried about his 80-year-old mother, who lives in a house in Mengxi next to the factory's walled compound. He wanted to move her from the village but she had refused to go, worried that she would end up dying in hospital. 'If the government doesn't clean up this mess as soon as possible, people will be very angry,' he said.

The county government confirmed the pollution and said steps were being taken to mitigate its effects. However, it refused to give details of the scale of the damage or the cause of the pollution.

Almost 170 people suffered blood poisoning in mid-March in Taizhou , also in Zhejiang, that was linked to pollution from battery factories, the People's Daily reported.

The environment ministry said that half of the major lead poisoning incidents last year were related to battery production.

Some Deqing residents said they were angry that Hangzhou and Huzhou, the two biggest cities in the region, had declared themselves tourism destinations and moved polluting factories to nearby counties and townships.

Haijiu used to be one of the biggest battery makers in Hangzhou. According to the China Electrical Equipment Industry Association, Haijiu ranked first in the production of motorcycle batteries from 2008 to last year with nine million units.

Since moving to Deqing a few years ago, Haijiu has become one of the county's biggest tax contributors.

The company declined an interview request yesterday but a senior manager told Xinhua it would pay all the medical expenses of affected children and strengthen management to prevent similar incidents.

A Deqing county government spokesman said investigators had been sent to the factory.