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China shuts lead plants on pollution fears
by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Sept 23, 2011

Authorities in Shanghai said Friday they had halted production at most of the city's lead battery plants -- including a US-owned factory -- on pollution concerns.

The announcement came after local media reported that 32 children living near two plants using lead in production, including one run by US Fortune 500 company Johnson Controls, were found to have excessive lead in their blood.

Authorities shut those plants last week, but the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau said in a statement Friday it had decided to close a total of 14 out of 17 factories for "rectification", giving no further details.

New York-listed Johnson Controls told AFP the shutdown would last until the end of the year, but said it did not believe its plant was responsible for the high lead levels in children.

"Based on the information we have at this time, we do not believe that emissions from our plant could have caused the level of lead contamination in the surrounding area," the company said in a statement to AFP.

It added the government had asked it to suspend operations because it had already used up an annual quota for use of lead in production.

According to the state-run Shanghai Daily, which quoted officials, the number of children with excessive lead levels living near the two plants had risen from 25 last week to 32, following tests on more than 1,100 kids.

Of the 32 children found to have high lead levels, 15 had been hospitalised, the report said.

Shanghai's environmental bureau said last week an initial investigation found that the Johnson Controls factory had been emitting dust and smoke containing lead.

The second plant, called Shanghai Xinmingyuan Auto Accessories Co., had been found using lead in production without proper approval, it added.

Excessive levels of lead in the blood are considered hazardous, particularly to children, who can experience stunted growth and mental retardation.

China's rapid industrialisation over the past 30 years has enabled it to become the world's number-two economy, but has also left it with widespread environmental damage that has triggered numerous public health scares.

Earlier this year, authorities in the eastern province of Zhejiang detained 74 people and suspended work at hundreds of factories after 172 people -- including 53 children -- fell ill due to lead poisoning.

In 2009, local smelting plants were found responsible for nearly 1,000 children testing positive for lead poisoning in the central province of Henan.

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