Sun, Aug 23, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Officials probed in lead scandal

TOXIC EMISSIONS: Two environmental officials in Hunan Province are being investigated over the mass poisoning of kids in the township of Wenping

AP , WENPING, CHINA

Village children chat in front of a closed kindergarten after its children allegedly suffered lead poisoning at the hands of the nearby Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Wenping Township, Hunan Province, China, yesterday. Two environmental officials were under investigation yesterday after more than 1,300 children were poisoned in the region.

PHOTO: AP

Two officials were under investigation yesterday after more than 1,300 children were poisoned by pollution from a manganese processing plant in central China.

The investigation comes as officials scrambled to punish those responsible for the poisoning caused by the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Wenping Township, Hunan Province.

The incident came to light days after reports that emissions from a lead smelter in another province sickened hundreds.

The plant in Wenping opened in May last year without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau, within 500m of a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten.

The government of Wugang City in Hunan said in a statement late on Friday that two officials from the city’s environmental protection bureau were being investigated.

Fears of poisoning began to spread among villagers early last month when many children became susceptible to colds and suffered fevers and other ailments, state media said.

The Xinhua news agency said on Thursday that 1,354 children who live near the plant — nearly 70 percent of those tested — were found to have excessive lead in their blood.

The government statement said 17 children who had high levels of lead poisoning were in hospital and receiving further tests. Calls to the city government and health bureau rang unanswered yesterday.

At the Hunan Province Industrial Contaminant Disease Prevention Hospital in the provincial capital of Changsha, nurses and doctors handed out medicine and monitored children who sat on beds and stood in hallways, accompanied by parents.

A man surnamed Xiang said his three-year-old son had been under observation for 10 days since excessive lead was found in his blood.

“I heard that there was a problem with the lead poisoning in the town, so I went to have him checked. That is how we found out,” Xiang said.

The hospital’s deputy director, Zhang Yirui, said treatment to remove the lead is available but may have adverse side effects.

Residents say hundreds of villagers rioted on Aug. 8 after news broke about the lead poisoning. One woman said a crowd of about 600 to 700 people overturned four police cars and smashed a local government sign.

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