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Lead poisoning highlights development dilemma
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Will relocation solve the problem?

In 2004, 156 families who had been living close to the plant were moved by the government. But soon afterwards, the relocation project stalled. Residents have been suspicious of the news that new residential buildings are being built, saying a highway is under construction instead.

According to He Hongnian, the relocation project involves many families from different social strata and would take time to complete. Many people are reluctant to leave their hometown, he added.

The relocation site is 1,350 meters away from the factory. In the first phase, six-floor apartment buildings will be constructed to house 670 households. The remaining 425 families will move there within two years. But Ning Jicang, deputy director of the Fengxiang County construction bureau, told reporters he had no idea how many villagers are willing to move into the new buildings, and admitted that, so far, the land acquisition process was not yet complete.

Furthermore, some children who moved away from the factory over the past few years still show high concentrations of lead in their blood. Even children who live two kilometers away from the factory have excessive lead in their blood, according to a Xinhua report.

If the excessive levels of lead persist even after the relocation, how will the problem be resolved?

He Hongnian told the press conference that the county government will invite construction, environmental and weather specialists to choose a new site in a safe area.

Can China's west develop without pollution?

Fengxiang County is famous for its agriculture but in recent years, it has been industrializing. Although poor infrastructure has limited its development, there is a railway line and its first highway, from Baoji to Hanzhong, is under construction.

"It seems impossible for us to combine rapid development and good health," said an official from the county government. "Advanced, non-polluting enterprises won't come to the west. The west and the east are not at the same starting point. The west has to feed its people while developing. It cannot attract high-technology industries. Instead, it is taking the risk of accepting the relocation of heavy chemical and polluting enterprises from the east. This is the dilemma of western development."

It costs 200,000 yuan (US$29,270) to relocate each family, and the remaining 425 families will cost nearly 100 million yuan (US$146,350), an entire year's tax revenue of Fengxiang County.

According to the official, Changqing was the poorest town in Fengxiang County before 1995. But after the Dongling Smelting Company and the Baoji Second Electric Power Plant started production, it became the richest. Dongling Smelting Company pays 20 million yuan (US$2.9 million) in taxes each year, contributing 17 percent of the county's fiscal revenue.

At midday on August 16, laver, garlic, wulong tea, seaweed and other foods that help remove lead from blood were delivered to Sunjianantou Village. The Vice Secretary of the Party Committee of Changqing Town distributed the food to the sick children.

(China.org.cn by Li Shen August 20, 2009)


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