Wednesday, 19 August 2009

China Shuts Smelter After Protest

BEIJING -- Authorities closed a smelting plant in northwest China's Shaanxi province following a protest on Monday by villagers upset over the lead poisoning of more than 600 children in the area, state media reported Tuesday.

Hundreds of residents who live around the Dongling Lead & Zinc Smelting Co. in Baoji city stormed its plant Monday morning, breaking through the factory gates and damaging at least 10 trucks and other vehicles on the premises, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
In recent weeks, at least 615, or more than 80%, of the children under the age of 14 in two villages near the smelter were found to have excessive lead levels in their blood, and 154 have been hospitalized. Anger among residents escalated Monday morning after details emerged of a suicide attempt by a teenage student who feared she had been poisoned, Xinhua said.
Residents complained that parts of the plant continued to operate. On Aug. 6, lead and zinc operations were suspended after the lead poisoning outbreak was traced to the factory, but coke production had continued.
Responding to the concerns, Baoji Mayor Dai Zhenshe said all operations had been halted on Monday, explaining that the coke production hadn't stopped earlier because there had still been gas in the production pipelines that created a risk of explosion, according to Xinhua.
"We had to make sure the gas in the pipeline was exhausted before the shutdown," Mr. Dai was quoted as saying. "Now we've closed down the plant, we won't allow it to open again until it has been proven it will not harm villagers."
Policemen and local officials were dispatched to restore order and negotiate with the protesters on Monday. Xinhua said most of the protesters had been dispersed by midafternoon.
The county government has pledged free health care for affected children. It also said that a delayed relocation plan for families who were supposed to be moved away from the smelter, which opened in 2006, would be completed within two years.
Write to Sky Canaves at