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Farmers protest over alleged lead poisoning
By Zhang Jianming and Shao Xiaoyi (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-25 05:57

MEISHAN, Zhejiang Province: Farmers staging a week-long protest against a factory they say causes lead pollution finally felt vindicated as the local government pledged to settle the problem yesterday.

The life of most villagers in Meishan Town in Changxing County of East China's Zhejiang Province is now back to normal as they said they believe in the government's efforts to solve the dispute.

"I trust the government that things will be settled on an equal footing," Hu Fengqiang, 40, a local farmer from Qiuwu Village, told China Daily yesterday.

Farmers are waiting for the final environmental test results to see whether or not the plant is affecting the surrounding environment, said Hu, whose 14-year-old son has been diagnosed with having a higher-than-normal concentration of lead in his blood.

Hu's son is one of 700 children from Meishan Town who were diagnosed in May with a lead concentration in their blood exceeding normal levels.

Although some children were diagnosed with lead levels above normal levels, it does not necessarily mean they were poisoned by lead from the factory, said Hu Yili, vice-director of the Changxing Health Bureau.

Hu said that there is no national standard for a child's blood lead content and the current standard used for classifying normal or abnormal was introduced from the United States, that is, 100 ug (microgrammes) per litre of blood.

About 1,300 children from Meishan Town have come to hospital to be checked for possible lead poisoning with 58 per cent showing abnormalities in the proportion of lead in their blood. However, only 5.5 per cent showed a higher proportion about 250 ug (microgrammes) per litre of blood, which needs medical treatment.

It is suspected that waste disposed by the Tian Neng Battery Company more than 600 metres away from the nine neighbouring villages is to blame for the poisoning, Hu said.

As the villagers staged protests at the factory, an environmental investigation team composed of officials and experts from Zhejiang Provincial Environmental Protection Bureau and volunteer farmers arrived at Meishan Town to collect air, earth and water samples to confirm whether the cause is pollution from the battery company, according to Zhang Quanzhen, chairman of CPPCC Committee of Changxing County.

Teams of officials went around the villages, from door to door, telling people that the government would settle the dispute in accordance with the law, Zhang added.

On August 20, a serious confrontation broke out between the factory employees and local farmers, who piled up cement slabs at the factory's gate and stopped it operating for seven days.

Over 500 people threw stones and fought with each other when local police were sent to the spot to prevent them from being injured. Some people even beat the policemen and burned two police vehicles.

At 8:00pm that day, some people broke into the factory and set fire to it, causing losses of 5 million yuan (US$616,500).

"The government is responsible for checking out the causes and all the medical fees of the victims will be covered by the local government. The government supports farmers to lodge their complaints through legal means," Zhang told China Daily yesterday.

The Tian Neng Battery Company has the IS014001 Authentication from the country's environmental management system.

The latest investigation carried out in October 2004, by the local environmental protection bureau showed that waste discharged from the factory met the State standards, said Chen Yan, director of the Changxing Environmental Protection Bureau.

The final cause of the pollution will be identified in one or two months, Chen added.

(China Daily 08/25/2005 page2)

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