China's top environment official has called for more effective measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning in response to a series of lead poisoning incidents across the country.
Incidents of lead poisoning have dogged China's heavy metal bases in Shaanxi, Hunan, Henan and Yunnan provinces, leading to closures of smelters and protests by parents furious over their children's maladies from lead.
More than 1,300 children in central Hunan province, 200 in Yunnan province and at least 615 in northern Shaanxi province tested positive for lead poisoning last month.
Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss.
"The prevention of heavy metal pollution should be put in a more urgent and more important position," Environment Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian told a national pollution prevention meeting.
"Effective measures should be taken to cope with heavy metal pollution."
Zhou said China needs to step up efforts to prevent heavy metal pollution and react swiftly to any cases found, according to a report posted on the Ministry of Environmental Protection website.
Lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and arsenic pollution will be the focus of current preventive work, the report added.
The ministry has passed in principle a plan to tackle heavy metal pollution, according to a separate statement on its website.
"It is necessary to cooperate with other departments and conduct a comprehensive rectification of heavy metal pollution," the statement said, possibly pointing to new checks on industry.
It did not give specific measures. Beijing's favorite way of dealing with polluting industries is to make new plants install newer, more efficient technology.
That may help cut smoke spewing from smokestacks across China, but it might not solve the longer-term problem of lead in the soil and water.
"It's not enough that just to say the company has not been found by regulatory agencies to violate standards, which I assume are concentration standards," said environmental researcher Ma Jun, referring to a case in Shaanxi province where a local environmental bureau said smelter owner Dongling Group had met emissions standards.
"It's quite obvious that the environment cannot absorb the volume," said Ma, director of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
He recommended restrictions on total volume of emissions, not just the level of emissions.
AP and Reuters contributed to the story