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Lead poisoning highlights development dilemma
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Early on August 15, residents of Madaokou village, Fengxiang County in Shaanxi Province blocked roads to demand the closure of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Plant in nearby Changqing Town. The villagers blame the smelter for the lead poisoning of 615 children.

At a press conference on August 13, the Fengxiang County government said 615 of 731 local children had been found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood. In 166 cases the lead poisoning was serious enough to require hospitalization. The rest of the children are being treated at home.

Official figures may underestimate number of victims

Wang Binzhe works in the coke plant at the Dongling Smelting Company. His eight-year-old son Wang Zeyuan has mild lead poisoning with 228 micrograms (mcgs) of lead per liter of blood. But because he is not an official resident of the area, he was excluded from the official screening program.

Wang said of the 1,000 or so workers in the Dongling's coke plant and the lead and zinc smelting plants, four to five hundred had come from other places to seek work. Their children were undoubtedly affected by lead pollution but as "outsiders" they were excluded from the official tests and therefore from official estimates of the number of children affected.

A doctor exams a sick child in a hospital in Fengxiang County on August 14. [Xinhua News Agency]

By August 15, 154 seriously affected children had been treated in hospital. But 12 had yet to come in for treatment, said He Hongnian, the deputy chief of Fengxiang County. 

The mother of a 13-month-old baby who had not taken her child to hospital said she was afraid of the side-effects of the treatment. "My baby is too small. I am afraid to try the treatment without proof of its safety." 

Nine-year-old Lei Xinyue has her lunch in hospital. She has serious lead poison with 506 micrograms (mcgs) of lead per liter of blood. [Xinhua News Agency]

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