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Villagers break into lead factory in NW China
By Hu Yongqi and Lu Hongyan (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-18 09:29

Hundreds of villagers broke through the fences of a smelting plant Monday to protest the lead poisoning affecting more than 600 children in Fengxiang county, Shaanxi province.

Residents from three villages affected by the poisoning - Madaokou, Sunjia Nantou, Gaozuitou - marched to the factory area of Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. about 10 am, said protester Ma Linqin.

He said protestors tore down fencing that surrounded the plant, overwhelmed the factory's security guards and smashed trucks and other vehicles.

No one was reportedly hurt despite clashes between protesters and nearly 100 police officers called to the scene. Many villagers, Ma said, remained at the factory until about 6 pm.

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Baoji Mayor Dai Zhengshe arrived at the site just after midday and called on the villagers to exercise restraint. He has been appointed head of a newly-established pollution control team and said he was willing to settle the villagers' relocation and medical issues through dialogue.

The city government, starting Monday afternoon, mobilized more than 200 officials to hear the villagers' woes.

The protesters' anger was fueled by news spread throughout the villages that the lead poisoning had induced a suicide attempt on Sunday.

A teenage student from Madaokau allegedly tried to commit suicide after her parents refused her request for a blood test.

Ma Jiaojiao, 19, fearing she might be poisoned, asked her mother for money on Sunday to get a test done. Government-funded tests cover only children under 14.

"My mother said it was unnecessary because I am much older than 14," Ma told the Xinhua News Agency from her hospital bed. "We had a bad quarrel."

She allegedly bought some pesticide and swallowed two mouthfuls at around 6 p.m. She is now receiving treatment at the People's Hospital in Baoji. A doctor said Ma was out of danger.

The county government denied claims by villagers that her suicide attempt was out of fear of lead poisoning.

"Her suicide attempt had nothing to do with it," said Zhang Xiaowei, an official in the publicity department of the county.

According to a report by the Fengxiang county government, the factory is mainly to blame for the lead poisoning that has forced the relocation of approximately 1,000 in the county.

Approximately 615 children have high concentrations of lead in their blood, parents told China Daily recently.

The plant's operations were suspended on Aug 6.

Of 166 serious cases diagnosed as having lead levels of more than 250 mg per liter of blood - normal levels range from zero to 100 mg per liter - 154 were hospitalized.

No action has been taken yet to find out how lead poisoning affected adults in the villages.

Residents living within a radius of 500 meters from the plant should have been relocated by this year, according to a deal between the plant and the Fengxiang county government before the plant opened in 2006. Relocation, however, is running far behind schedule because of a shortage of funds, according to government officials.

Only 156 of the 581 families affected by the lead poisoning have moved to new homes.

The government of Fengxiang County began building new homes last Thursday for the remaining 425 families. They are expected to move to the new community, located about 1.3 km from the factory, within two years.

However there are concerns about the safety of the new site; experts will conduct tests this week.

Xinhua contributed to the report