Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

China pollution protesters storm lead smelter

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Protesters on Monday 17 August broke into a smelting works responsible for poisoning hundreds of children. Trucks were smashed and fences ripped down according to state news agency Xinhua, and around 100 policemen were sent to the scene, along with the mayor of nearby Baoji city who appealed for calm.

The Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co plant, in northwest Shaanxi province, is recognised even by government officials as the source of dangerous levels of lead in the atmosphere that have been disastrous for the health of children in the community. The poisoning scandal erupted last week, after worried parents took their children for medical tests.

All the affected families live near the Changqing industrial park in Shaanxi province. Officials promised in 2006 to help relocate villagers living nearby, but the plan has stalled since then. Monday’s angry protest came after tests showed that at least 615 children out of 731 living in two villages near the smelting works have excessive lead levels in their blood. To date 166 children have been admitted to hospital, with the county government agreeing to cover their medical expenses.

Parents and local campaigners say this offer is not enough. The government is only offering free tests to children under 14 years of age, and there has been no investigation into whether adults might be affected. Villagers also complain that the new homes on offer are not far enough away from the plant to prevent their children from getting sick. The protest on Monday began after news spread that the poisoning had led to a suicide attempt by one 19-year-old student found to be contaminated, Xinhua reported.

The Changqing demonstration is the second of its type to make headlines in recent days. As reported on, local campaigners in Liuyang city, Hunan province, have staged defiant demonstrations demanding compensation after untreated waste from a nearby zinc factory killed at least five people. These protests movements are symptomatic of increasing environmental concern and activism, reflecting the terrible situation especially in rural areas where notorious “cancer villages” have sprung up as a result of massive and uncontrolled industrial pollution.

The lead levels in the blood of the children from the vicinity of the Dongling plant ranged from 100 milligrams to more than 500 milligrams per litre. A reading of more than 200 milligrams is considered hazardous. Children are more vulnerable than adults to lead poisoning which can harm the nervous system. Reports state that while water, soil and waste from the factory all met national environmental standards, lead content in the air around the site was more than six times the level found a few hundred metres away. The smelting plant has now been closed down.

By SP reporters


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