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Hubei closes Vanadium plants as skin disease spreads
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Four unlicensed Vanadium plants have been closed in Hubei Province, after media reports of a skin disease spreading among local villagers. The plants were located in the townships of Sanzhou, Rongcheng and Chiba in Jianli County.

"Since the Vanadium plant opened there has been a vile smell in the house. When the wind comes from the south it makes you vomit. The kids cough every morning. And it's not just the coughing, my face is always inflamed and itchy after working in the cotton fields," said villager Zhu Yan.

Nobody dares to pick cotton any more; villagers with land near the plants all have the same symptoms, said another resident, Xu Boping.

The Jianli government said it closed a Vanadium oxide smelter in April 2006 but recently a small number of people had illegally reestablished smelting plants in remote towns and villages. The business is hugely profitable according to the government.

This June, after a tip-off, the government launched an investigation, and discovered 10 plants either already complete, or under construction. None of these plants had applied for an environmental assessment as required by law and most were using outdated technology that emits chlorine gas, chlorine hydride gas, waste water, and slag, all of which cause serious pollution.

In September, the county government cancelled the business licenses of the 10 plants, cut off electricity supplies and sealed their premises. But four of the plants tore off the government seals and restarted production.

In the afternoon on September 14, the Jianli government held an emergency meeting and decided to demolish the four illegal factories. Lin Zhixiong, the vice magistrate of Jianli county, said managers of the four plants had been arrested and their bank accounts frozen.

Meanwhile the health department said that experts had so far not proven a link between the Vanadium plants and the local farmers' skin infections. Investigations into the cause of the skin complaints are ongoing.

(China.org.cn by Jessica Zhang October 16, 2008)

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