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Lead poisoning spurs relocation from smelting plant
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Authorities in northwest China have begun work on a scheme to relocate at least 1,000 people living near a smelting plant suspected of discharging waste that caused lead poisoning in more than 600 children.

Photo taken on August 11, 2009. The plant of Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in Changqing town, Shaanxi Province.
Photo taken on August 11, 2009. The plant of Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in Changqing town, Shaanxi Province.

The government of Fengxiang County, in Shaanxi Province, began building new homes Thursday for 425 families living within a radius of 500 meters of Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in Changqing town.

The residents were expected to move to the new community, about a kilometer from their current homes, within two years, said He Hongnian, deputy county head. He didn't say how much the construction would cost.

Pu Yiming, chief of Changqing town, said the cost would largely be shared by the county government and local businesses.

"I'm ready to move, the earlier the better, as long as the new place has water, electricity and easier access to transport," said Lu Tao, who lives 100 meters from the smelting plant.

Under the relocation plan, initiated before the plant was opened in 2006, the residents should have moved already. Officials with the county government said the delay was caused by "readjustments in the overall planning of the Changqing industrial park."

The delay, however, may have endangered the health of residents since 6-year-old Miao Fan was diagnosed with gastritis resulting from lead ingestion in late July.

Miao's case sparked widespread fear among residents, who rushed their children to hospital for blood tests.

In government-funded tests by industrial illness specialists in Xi'an Central Hospital this week, 615 children -- about 85 percent of all the 731 children aged under 14 that were tested -- had excessive lead levels in their blood.

Of them, 166 children were admitted to hospital as their blood-lead levels exceeded 250 milligram per liter, compared with the normal level of zero to 100 mg per liter. In the worst three cases, levels exceeded 450 mg per liter.

The county government has promised to cover all their medical expenses. For other children being treated at home, the government would provide milk, dried vegetables and nuts, which are believed to help expel excessive lead from the body, said official He Hongnian.

The smelting plant belongs to Dongling Group, one of the biggest private companies in Shaanxi Province. The plant in Changqing town began operating in 2006, producing lead, zinc and coke. It directly accounted for 17 percent of the county's GDP last year.

(Xinhua News Agency August 14, 2009)

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