A smelter in Shaanxi province that villagers say has poisoned more than 600 of their children is still discharging toxic chemical waste despite a government closure order, residents said, a day after a crowd tried to storm the plant. Following Monday's protest, in which hundreds of villagers stoned vehicles, tore down fences and walls and clashed with police outside the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting plant, local mayor Dai Zhengshe apologised to victims of the pollution and said the smelter would be shut down immediately. But it was still operating yesterday, and the villagers, from Fengxiang district, said work had not stopped for a minute. 'They dare not operate during daytime because of our protests, but they continue refining zinc at night,' said a villager who works at the plant. The violence followed three days of peaceful protests by villagers. Doctors have found high lead levels in at least 615 children in villages near the smelter. The number could rise as more parents take the children to hospitals for check-ups. Hundreds of kilometres southeast of Fengxiang, people in Hunan province are fighting a similar battle. Villagers in Wenping township say a manganese processing plant has poisoned more than 100 children. While the two cases happened in places far apart, they share many similarities. The plight of those affected - and that of 500 villagers elsewhere in Hunan poisoned by a plant illegally processing heavy metals, five of whom have died - underscores the widespread dangers many people on the mainland face from polluting factories built near their homes. People in four villages in Wenping, close to the Jinglian manganese-processing factory, have complained about the declining health of their children since the plant opened last year. They say 80 per cent of children in the four villages are sick. The plant was built next to a middle school, and just a few hundred metres from people's homes, in the village of Huangjing despite opposition from residents. 'My 10-month-old son was among the first batch of 16 children to be examined. All but one of them were found to have been poisoned,' said one villager whose children are being treated in a hospital in the provincial capital, Changsha , which specialises in treating occupational diseases. 'It was heartbreaking seeing my son poisoned. He is pale and cries day and night because he is sick,' the woman said. In Wenping just as in Fengxiang, authorities promised to shut down the factory. Fortunately for the Hunan villagers, the government was as good as its word and ordered the manganese-processing plant shut last Friday. Still, sceptics suspect the plant will be allowed to restart once media attention is off Wenping. Villagers in Fengxiang are not surprised the smelter's owners ignored the order to suspend production. Cadres had always tried to protect the plant, which is the biggest contributor to the local economy, said one.