Three officials held responsible for cadmium pollution that sickened 509 people in Liuyang City, central China's Hunan Province were punished, the city government said Tuesday.
Xiong Zanhui, deputy head of the Zhentou Township government, has been prosecuted after police found he had shares and received 100,000 yuan in bribes from the chemical plant that discharged the metal pollutant, according to the government announcement.
Chen Wenbo, the city's environmental bureau chief, and Zhang Zhiliang, deputy director of the bureau, have been dismissed from their posts.
Jiang Guoping, vice mayor of Liuyang, said environmental experts found soil in an area within 500 meters of the Changsha Xianghe Chemical Plant has been polluted by the cadmium leak, which was caused by discharges of sewage, waste residue and dust from the plant.
The government has offered free health checks to 2,888 villagers living in an area within 1,200 meters to the chemical discharge, and the urinalysis tests of 509 showed high concentrations of cadmium.
The plant went into operation in 2003 and primarily produced zinc sulfate, an ingredient in fodder. It was ordered to close in April.
Five people, including the plant's owner, director and workshop manager have been detained by police for investigation.
Villagers said they have petitioned for government investigation in the plant's pollution problems since 2007. But the local authority failed to resort to actions.
Two villagers near the plant died in May and June. Local health departments found high levels of cadmium in their bodies. Villagers took to the streets in several protests of the pollution in July. About 1,000 villagers participated in the latest protest on July 30.
In the protests, villagers asked for free health check-ups, free medical treatment and compensation for spoiled crops and land.
One of the villagers, Huang Ying, said both his father and husband fell ill.
"You can't see anything wrong from their appearance, but they just feel too fatigued to do any farmwork," she said.
The vice mayor Jiang said agriculture and animal husbandry departments will purchase the spoiled farm produce and livestock from the villagers at market prices, and the purchased goods will be collectively destroyed later.
"The government has issued living subsidies to the villagers since July 3. However, the specific compensation measures will come out later," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency August 4, 2009)