Wugang: Over 1,300 children are suspected to have suffered lead poisoning in central China`s Hunan province, leading to a smelter being shut down and two of the plant executives being detained. In a similar incident, 851 children had fallen ill due to lead poisoning in Shaanxi province.
At least 1,354 children in Wenping town of Wugang city were diagnosed with having excessive lead in their blood, with more than 100 mg of lead per litre of blood compared to the normal zero to 100 mg, an official with the city government said on Thursday.
They made up nearly 70 percent of the total 1,956 children who received government-funded blood tests at local hospitals this week, he said.
The children, aged under 14, are from four villages near Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Wenping town. However, another test has to be carried out by the industrial illness authority in the provincial capital Changsha before the final diagnosis, the official said.
By Thursday, 83 cases had been confirmed by the Changsha authority. Seventeen were diagnosed as "moderate poisoning" with blood lead level between 250 and 499 mg, 28 as "slight poisoning" with 200 to 249 mg and another 38 with 100 to 199 mg.
The 17 moderate poisoning cases have been hospitalised in Changsha and will receive free treatment, while the slight cases would be treated at home. Final test results for the other suspected cases will be published within a week.
Fears of lead poisoning began to spread among the villagers in early July, when many children suddenly became susceptible to cold and suffered fevers and anorexia.
"When I took my sons to hospital, the doctor asked if we lived near a heavy metal plant," said Lei from Hengjiang village. "We suspected the manganese smelter that opened last year was to blame."
Another villager said, "Whenever the plant is operational, we can see thick smoke and dust in the air."
Authorities shut down Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant on August 13.
Police have detained two of its executives, Deng Qingguo and Yi Jianhua, on suspicion of "causing severe environment pollution", but general manager Liu Zhongwu is still at large.
The plant opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environment protection bureau, said Huang Wenbin, deputy environment chief in Wugang city.
Within a radius of 500 meters from the plant is a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten.
"We used to recruit several hundred children every year but parents have stopped sending their children here this summer," said a kindergarten teacher. "Who knows, maybe our classrooms will all be empty when the new term begins next month."
In a similar incident in northwest China`s Shaanxi province, discharges from a zinc and lead smelter left 851 children ill with excessive lead in the blood. All the children live within 500 metres of the plant.