China has detained two factory officials after 1,300 children were poisoned by pollution from a manganese processing plant, days after emissions from a lead smelter in another province sickened hundreds.
Both cases have sparked unrest and come amid growing anger in
China over public safety scandals in which children have been the
main victims. Tainted infant formula milk and the mass collapse of
schools in a huge earthquake last year have also provoked
The latest incident involves the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant
in Wenping township, central Hunan province. It opened in May 2008
without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau,
within 500 yards (meters) of a primary school, a middle school and
Fears of poisoning began to spread among villagers in early July
when many children became susceptible to colds and suffered fevers
and other ailments, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.
Some 1,354 children who live near the plant - or nearly 70
percent of those tested - were found to have excessive lead in
their blood, Xinhua said. Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and
reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss.
Local authorities shut down the smelter last week and detained
two of its executives on suspicion of "causing severe
environmental pollution," Xinhua said. General manager Liu Zhongwu
was still at large, it said.
Li Liangmei, a 36-year-old mother of two affected children, said
hundreds of villagers rioted Aug. 8 after news broke about the lead
poisoning. She said a crowd of about 600 to 700 people overturned
four police cars and smashed a local government sign.
"People were angry about the test results," Li said. Her
13-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were among the hundreds
found to have lead in their blood above safe levels.
Earlier this week, villagers in Shaanxi, another rural province
in central China, clashed with police as they protested the
operations of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in the town
of Changqing. They also stoned trucks trying to deliver coal to the
That unrest came after at least 615 out of 731 children in two
villages near that smelter tested positive for lead poisoning.
Children from six other villages there are now being tested.
Children's health can be a particularly volatile issue in China,
where most families are restricted to having just one child.
A string of recent safety scandals has put parents on high
alert, including a national problem with tainted infant formula
that killed at least six babies, and the mass collapse of schools
in last year's Sichuan earthquake that left thousands of students
dead. Critics blamed poor government oversight for the milk, and
local corruption and profit-skimming for the allegedly shoddy
Seeking to restore public trust, the Communist Party leadership
has vowed in each case to deal harshly with those responsible for
endangering children. But heavy-handed efforts to silence angry
parents, including threats and house arrest, have further damaged
the party's image and undermined its pledge to "put people
Zhao Lianhai, the father of a child who was sickened by tainted
milk, blamed local government greed for the new lead poisoning
cases and expressed sympathy for the families affected.
"It is said that children are the flower of the motherland and
I am sad to see these flowers devastated," he said in a telephone
interview. "The government should value the children more than
this, care for them and do more to protect their food and living
Since his son became ill, Zhao has turned to activism, seeking
punishment for those implicated in the milk scandal and free
medical care for victims. Some 294,000 infants suffered urinary
problems from drinking the infant formula contaminated with the
industrial chemical melamine.
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