Some 250 children sickened by emissions from a lead smelter in western China remain in hospital weeks after the mass poisoning case was uncovered and at least four are likely to suffer permanent brain damage, state media said yesterday.
A top Chinese environmental official said the factory was emitting 800 times the acceptable levels and blamed local authorities for failing to do anything.
Four of the children from Hui county in Gansu Province are reported to have more than 450mg of lead per liter of blood -- a level which constitutes severe poisoning and that usually results in brain damage, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
At least 877 people from Hui county's villages of Xinsi and Moba, including 334 children under age 14, have tested positive for excessive amounts of lead in their blood since last year. Xinhua said the 250 hospitalized children, all of whom are under 14 years of age, are being treated with vitamin supplements and most are in stable condition.
The pollution has been traced to the Hui County Non-Ferrous Metal Smelting Plant, a ten-year-old factory that was allegedly warned several times by environmental officials to stop discharging pollutants but continued to do so. The plant has since been demolished.
In 2003, the plant released 182 tonnes of lead into the atmosphere, 800 times acceptable levels, Pan Yue (
He said the case and another in Hunan Province where two factories were found to have been dumping arsenide and other pollutants into a river for at least a year were "typical examples of pollution problems caused by a dereliction of duty" by local officials.
"The plants appeared to cause the pollution, but in fact the root of the problem lies in the local governments and local protectionism," Pan was quoted as saying.
There have been no reported arrests or punishments meted out to the Hui county plant or to county officials. The smelter has allegedly agreed to compensate affected villagers but details of the compensation have not been released.
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