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Local Govt Moves to Resolve Lead Poisoning Row
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Some farmers involved in action against a battery factory that they believe has poisoned their children with lead responded positively to a local government pledge yesterday to resolve the dispute.

"I trust that things will be settled on an equal footing," Hu Fengqiang, a 40-year-old farmer from Qiuwu Village, was quoted by China Daily yesterday in a report that said life for most villagers was now back to normal after a weeklong protest.

He said they were waiting for results from final environmental tests to see whether or not the plant is affecting the surrounding environment.

His 14-year-old son was one of over 750 children from Meishan Town, Changxing County in the eastern province of Zhejiang found to have blood lead levels thought to be a cause for concern, out of 1,300 tested there in May.

Hu Yili, vice-director of Changxing Health Bureau, said there was no national standard for blood lead levels in China, so 100 micrograms of lead per liter of blood, as used by the US Center of Disease Control and Prevention, was used as a threshold.

According to the WHO, even these amounts, once thought to be safe, may lead to decreased intelligence in children, behavioral difficulties and learning problems, and subtle effects on IQ loss are expected from levels as low as 50 micrograms per liter of blood.

At least 71 of the children tested in Meishan had more than 250 micrograms of lead per liter of blood and required medical treatment.

Hu Yili stressed that none of this necessarily meant they were poisoned by lead from Tian Neng Battery Company, though waste disposed by it is widely suspected to be the cause. The plant is around 600 meters from nine villages.

Chen Yan, director of Changxing Environmental Protection Bureau, said its most recent check on the factory in October 2004 found its waste met national requirements, and that the cause of the poisoning should be identified in one or two months' time.

Zhang Quanzhen, committee chairman of Changxing's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said an investigation team from the provincial environmental protection bureau has arrived in Meishan to collect air, earth and water samples, assisted by volunteer farmers.

Teams of officials have also gone door to door around the villages telling people that the government will settle the dispute in accordance with the law, Zhang added.

"The government is responsible for checking out the causes, and all medical fees of victims will be covered by the local government. The government supports farmers in lodging their complaints through legal means," Zhang told China Daily yesterday.

Local farmers piled cement slabs at the plant's gate, stopping operations for seven days, and there were confrontations between them and factory employees. Over 500 people threw stones and fought, local police were sent to keep the peace and two police vehicles were burned.

At 8 PM that day, a group broke into the factory and set fire to it, causing losses of 5 million yuan (US$616,500).

(China Daily August 25, 2005)

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