China calls for urgent action to stop lead poisoning

Incidents of lead poisoning have dogged China's heavy metal bases in Shaanxi, Hunan, Henan and Yunnan provinces, leading to the closure of smelters that has brought a two-week rally in lead prices.

China calls for urgent action to stop lead poisoning
China's environmental protection minister has demanded urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning, state media said on Thursday, as anger grows amongst parents with children poisoned by lead.

Incidents of lead poisoning have dogged China's heavy metal bases in Shaanxi, Hunan, Henan and Yunnan provinces, leading to the closure of smelters that has brought a two-week rally in lead prices.

"The prevention of heavy metal pollution should be put in a more urgent and more important position," Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian told a national pollution prevention meeting, said the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

"Effective measures should be taken."

Villagers in Dazhai in southwestern Yunnan province, the latest focal point of poisoning, say pollution from smelters has affected them and their farmland for a decade.

"They have given us medicine for this, but this is caused by the pollution from the factories and they should be responsible," said Xu Guqin, 31, holding her year-old daughter.

Parents said children had lost their appetite and suffered from stomach pains and digestive problems. More than 200 children in Dazhai and nearby Yingpan village have been found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood.

"Of course I am worried," said Yang Yewa, 35. "When we ask the government, they say there is no problem."

But while the Environment Ministry's urges action, Beijing continues to clamp down on discussion of the extent of the problem for fear it will lead to unrest.

The Ministry of Propaganda ordered Chinese news media to play down poisoning reports during upcoming National Day holidays, when the Communist Party celebrates 60 years of rule, according to posts translated by the China Digital Times.

"The Chinese government is afraid that public reporting on such often widespread issues will cause a strong public reaction in requiring accountability of the government," said CDT founder Xiao Qiang who teaches journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

The government has become increasingly worried about the environmental and health costs of pollution, and about rising public anger over the problem.

"Mass incidents" -- or riots and protests -- sparked by environmental problems have been rising at a rate of 30 percent per year, according to minister Zhou.

China, which has already set a target of closing 600,000 tonnes of outdated lead capacity in the next few years, plans to send inspectors to major lead producing provinces for environment checks, industry sources said.


Reuters
Last Mod: 03 Eylül 2009, 17:26
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