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Smelter to close fully after poisoning 851 children with lead
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Authorities in northwest China's Shaanxi Province announced Wednesday that all facilities of a smelting plant would cease operations by Saturday amid public anger over heavy metal discharges by the plant that left 851 children ill.

Xu Qiang, deputy mayor of Baoji City, Wednesday urged local residents in Changqing Township, where the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in Fengxiang County, Baoji, is located, to resume normal production and way of life as early as possible following its closure.

Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. had been ordered by environmental protection authorities to suspend lead and zinc production Aug. 6, after sporadic cases of lead poisoning were reported among children from two villages near the factory site.

Four of the smelting company's five smelting sections, which were responsible for lead poisoning, had been pulled ceased production before Aug.17, according to Wang Hai'ao, chief of the environmental protection department of Baoji City.

The last smelting section has 11 distillation columns, but six of them had also been pulled out production by Aug.17. The remaining five were left to have heat on until zinc molten could run off.

"The last five distillation columns will also be pulled out production to fully dispel local villagers' concern about the smelting company's lead pollution," said Wang at a presss conference held Wednesday.

Smelting experts warned Tuesday that there would be safety hazards if the five distillation columns were closed immediately. At their advice, the five distillation columns were left to cool down gradually starting Tuesday.

All of the distillation columns will have stopped operation by Saturday morning. They will be totally destroyed and become useless by then and Dongling company will suffer a loss of more than 10 million yuan (about 1.47 million U.S dollars ), said Wang.

Dongling's other business, the coking project, which pumps out pollutants other than lead, has stopped production, but its furnace has been left to have heat on.

Amid widespread lead poisoning fears, Fengxiang county government has offered free blood tests for 1,016 children aged 14 and under from three villages of Changqing Township, 851 of whom were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood.

Of the total, 174 cases were considered serious and need hopsitalization. At present, only 155 patients have been received medication at five hospitals designated by Fengxiang County government.

Lead poisoning can damage the nervous system and cause various mental problems.

Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co., which started production in 2006, produces 100,000 tonnes of lead and zinc and 700,000 tonnes of coke a year.

On Monday, hundreds of angry villagers who believed secret production was still going on at the smeltering took to the streets, tore down fences and stoned coal-carrying trucks and other vehicles. They also broke into the smelting company's offices and smashed desks, computers and windows.

Baoji Mayor Dai Zhengshe, who arrived at the plant Monday noon amid a protest by hundreds of villagers, apologized for the lead poisoning and its harmful effects on residents. He ordered an immediate halt to all production Monday.

To further pacify local villagers, Chinese Ministry of Health have dispatched experts down to Fengxiang to help local medical workers cure children poisoned with excessive lead, while Shaanxi Provincial Department of Health have sent experts to assist children's blood tests, said Liu Shaoming, head of Shaanxi Provincial Department, Tuesday.

Vice Mayor Xu Qiang pledged Wednesday that when the autumn semester begins in September, each school will be assigned with an extra health care doctor who will teach students about prevention of lead poisoning.

Shaanxi Provincial Environmental Protection Department has also set aside 500,000 yuan for financing evaluation of the negative impact caused by the smelting company on the environment of its vicinity, and for inspections over other polluting enterprises and relevant treatment, said a source of the department.

(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2009)

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