20 Aug 2009

China closes second smelter after 'hundreds' fall ill

10:50 pm on 20 August 2009

Authorities in China have closed a second metal smelter after more than 1,300 children fell sick with lead poisoning, state media have reported.

The children were living near a manganese plant near Wugang, in Hunan province, Xinhua news agency said.

Two executives of the plant have been detained over the poisoning.

It follows the closure of another smelter in northern Shaanxi province, where more than 600 children were found to have lead poisoning, the BBC reports.

In both cases, the smelters were closed after angry parents confronted authorities over their children's illnesses.

Lead poisoning can cause a range of health problems, from learning disabilities to seizures. Children under six are most at risk.

Air, soil and water pollution is common in China, which has seen rapid economic growth over the past few decades.

An official in Wenping, part of Wugang city in Hunan, said that 1,354 children living in four villages near the Wugang Manganese Smeltering Plant had excessive levels of lead in their blood, Xinhua said. All the children are under 14 years old.

Adults in the area began to suspect the smelter as the cause of a rash of illnesses among their children and on 8 August blocked a road in protest.