BEIJING, China, October 14, 2009 (ENS) – Blood tests on 968 children in China’s largest lead smelting area have shown “excessive lead levels,” the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said Tuesday.

Jiyuan City in the central province of Henan has a 52-year history of lead production, but the city’s health bureau started testing children only after lead poisoning was exposed in a neighboring province.

Since August 20, the health bureau has tested 2,743 children under the age of 14, who lived near three smelters, Wei Zongchang, director of the Jiyuan health bureau told Xinhua. More than one-third of the children tested had high levels of lead in their blood.

Yang Anguo, board chairman of Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, China’s largest lead producer, said, “We do bear responsibility for the pollution. Some pollution has accumulated over the past 20 years or more and the plant is too near homes.”

Established in 1957, the Yuguang Gold and Lead Group is publicly traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system; behavior and learning problems, such as hyperactivity; slow growth; hearing problems and headaches.

While lead exposure is also harmful to adults, lad is more dangerous to children because children’s growing bodies absorb more lead and children’s brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead than those of adults.

Duan Xizhong, secretary of the Communist Party of China Jiyuan committee, said the city government has suspended production at 32 of the 35 electrolytic lead plants and also the production lines of three other major plants. When they will restart production is still uncertain.

Environment protection inspectors were stationed in the three largest plants – Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, Wanyang Smeltery Group and Jinli Smelting – he said.

All children living within 1,000 meters (.62 miles) of the smelters have been moved away at government expense, said Duan. Some children under six are living in a local hotel, and the government has opened a kindergarten for them.

After local villagers demonstrated in front of the smelters in September, more than 200 government officials have been sent out to explain the situation in villages.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.