The mainland's top environmental watchdog has stepped up its crackdown on lead pollution after a spate of poisonings, saying it will stop approval of environmental assessment studies in cities with major pollution problems.
The new notice issued by the Environmental Protection Ministry on Wednesday also said executives of companies using the toxic heavy metal element would be held accountable in cases of contamination.
Xinhua reported that prefecture-level cities identified as having lead-poisoning problems would be heavily criticised and have environmental impact assessment applications for all new construction projects halted. Also, production would be immediately suspended if businesses were found to be heavy polluters. Local government leaders would also be held responsible.
Lead poisoning can lead to diseases of the heart, bone and nervous systems, and it is particularly toxic to children.
In recent years, China has been hit by hundreds of heavy-metal pollution incidents. The new notice was issued after more than 69 children were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood. The villagers who live close to a battery factory in Zijin county Heyuan city, Guangdong, returned lead levels as high as 600 micrograms per litre of blood, far in excess of the 100 mcg limit.
It was the second lead-pollution scandal on the mainland in recent weeks. In the other incident, the central government took over an investigation into lead pollution involving one of the biggest battery factories in Deqing county in Huzhou city, Zhejiang province, where at least 99 children were found suffering from lead poisoning, Environmental Protection Ministry spokesman Tao Detian criticised the local county government for its lax monitoring and failure to evacuate residents.
The motorcycle battery factory - the Zhejiang Haijiu Battery Company - was ordered to halt production on April 29. The company's representative was arrested and local officials held accountable, but details of punishments were not released.
Tao said the ministry had also suspended approving environmental assessments of Huzhou city, and cancelled the county's designation as an ecological zone.
But Professor Wang Canfa of the China University of Political Science and Law, said he was not impressed with the scale of crackdown.
'This is merely a working notice alerting officials within the environmental protection system to pay attention to lead poisoning. It's not even a legally binding regulation,' Wang said.
He said the mainland had long banned large-scale environmental pollution, so the latest move just highlighted old regulations.
'The government should set up a new anti-pollution law covering a wider sector by giving the public a formal legal weapon in seeking compensation for any bodily harm caused by environmental pollution,' Wang said. 'Only this will be enough of a deterrent to pressure businesses to behave.'