The central government has taken over the investigation into a lead pollution incident involving one of China's biggest battery factories, in Deqing county, Zhejiang, and will soon release its findings, China News Service reports.
A county official told the news agency that a team of specialists from the Ministry of Environmental Protection had arrived in Deqing on Saturday.
Unacceptably high levels of lead have been found since March in the blood of workers at a factory that supplies batteries for motorcycles.
Nearby village residents were also affected. Xinhua reported earlier that at least 19 children in Mengxi village had suffered from lead poisoning. China News Service reported one four-year-old girl with a lead level of 720 micrograms per litre, far above the recommended maximum of 100 micrograms.
China News Service said yesterday that 1,010 local residents, including 74 children, had been examined by Friday. It did not disclose the results, but said four children were being treated in hospital.
Residents complained to the South China Morning Post last week that city and county level governments had moved the polluting factory from a more developed area into their rural community, and protected its operation, because it was one of the biggest local taxpayers.
The factory, Haijiu Battery, used to be one of the biggest battery makers in Hangzhou. The China Electrical Equipment Industry Association ranked the company first in the production of motorcycle batteries from 2008 to last year with 9 million sold annually.
Residents said they did not trust local government officials to handle this incident fairly and effectively. Hu Linchang, who lives less than 4 kilometres from the factory, said he welcomed Beijing's involvement. 'They won't remove lead from our blood if they don't remove corrupt officials from their posts,' he said.
County officials shut down the factory's production last month, they told state news agencies.
County environmental officials said they had collected samples from the soil, water, vegetables and rice fields near the factory but had found nothing abnormal.
In mid-March, almost 170 people suffered blood poisoning in Taizhou, also in Zhejiang, which was linked to pollution from battery factories, the People's Daily reported.
In Mengxi village, near the battery plant, the number of children reported with lead poisoning was at least: 19