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Antidote to poisoning polluters
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China will adopt powerful measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning following a recent string of lead poisoning incidents involving thousands of children in Shaanxi and Hunan provinces, a senior environmental protection official said yesterday.

"Pollution from heavy metals have become increasingly prominent, seriously endangering the health of local residents and resulting in adverse social impacts," Zhang Lijun, vice minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said in a joint conference with the National Development and Reform Commission on the country's efforts in reducing pollution and emissions.

Zhang said the problem needs to be tackled at the source, which is the heavily polluting plants that fail to meet environmental standards.

He said local officials who turn a blind eye to heavy polluters will be punished. Officials who are responsible for the lead poisoning in Shaaxi and Hunan are being investigated and will be punished accordingly.

In many regions, officials place a greater emphasis on short-term economic growth than on the long-term impact of pollution, he said.

In August, more than 800 children living near a lead smelter run by Dongling Group in Shaanxi showed high levels of lead poisoning, with 174 admitted to hospital.

Also in August, more than 1,300 children living near the Wugang Manganese smelter in Wenping, Hunan, tested positive for high levels of lead.

In the latest case, 121 children in Shanghang county in Fujian province were found to have excessive lead in their blood.

Local governments are required to stop the source of heavy metal pollution as soon as it is discovered, Zhang said.

Residents living around plants that could cause heavy metal pollution will receive regular examinations and the plants must be closely monitored.

"Local authorities need to publish information about heavy metal pollution without delay to keep residents informed," Zhang said.

The government also plans to tighten controls on construction permits for polluting plants which may cause hazards for local residents' health.

When asked by China Daily whether it is safe to build waste incineration plants in residential areas, Zhang said incinerators will not affect people's health or pollute the environment if they are built according to government guidelines.

Zhang said China dealt with 155 million tons of waste last year, 80 percent of which was buried and 15 percent was treated at waste incineration plants.

Besides trying to combat pollution, China is optimistic about achieving its promise of cutting energy use per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent by 2010 despite facing rigorous challenges, Xie Zhenhua, vice-minister of National Development and Reform Commission said yesterday.

"China is well on its way to achieving its target. China has reduced energy use per unit of GDP by 10 percent between 2006 and 2008," Xie told the press conference.

Xie said China has cut energy use per unit of GDP by a further 3.3 percent in the first half of this year.

If China achieves its goal by 2010, it will prevent about 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, which will rank China the top cutter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world.

(China Daily September 28, 2009)

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