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Plant In Probe For Lead Poisoning
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Environmental officials are testing the discharge from a smelting factory, seeking the cause of lead poisoning that affected scores of villagers in Qili Village of Fujian Province.

The Straits News, reported on Wednesday that 21 of 31 children tested in Qili, where the Meiheng Lead Smelting Co Ltd's plant is based, were found to have too much lead in their blood.

"We've never thought we were living in a dangerous environment till an 11-year-old boy here was found to have medium-level lead poisoning late last month," a local villager told the newspaper. "We are just farmers and know little of these fatal chemicals. Shouldn't anyone or any organization educate us beforehand, or test the water, vegetables and grain we have? Most of the people tested actually do have too much lead in their blood. We adults are the secondary concern, but what about our children?"

The report of the test on the 11-year-old boy, given the alias Chen Xiaoxiong, said that he had more than 290 milligrams of lead per liter of blood. The normal human lead content is less than 100 milligrams.

The Qili Administrative Village, made up of 12 small villages, has a population of more than 2,400. The most serious poisoning was in Xiaqili, where villagers now dare not eat locally produced rice and vegetables or drink water from the individually dug wells in the village, Qili Party Secretary Luo Lianghuan said.

Many people have taken their children for check-ups. In Xiaqili at least 200 people went for the checks, most of which found they had excessive lead in their blood. Many are blaming the Meiheng plant for the poisoning.

The Straits News said the plant produces mainly electrolytic lead and aluminium, with an annual production value of 60 million yuan (US$7.5 million).

The Sanming City Environmental Inspection Station has ordered the factory to stop using a polluting production method that the State banned last week. The investigation of the plant is continuing.

"If the authorities conclude that our factory caused all the poisoning cases, we will take full responsibilities," said Xiao Xiangmei, chairman of the plant.

Excessive amounts of lead in the body harms the nervous and reproductive systems and can cause high blood pressure and anemia. In severe cases, it can lead to convulsions, coma and even death.

(Xinhua News Agency October 20, 2006)

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