Children in a village in Hunan province are being poisoned by lead on pencils, not by any chemical discharge from a local factory, China News reported Monday, citing provincial authorities.
The comment followed revelations that more than 300 children in Dapu village were found to have excessive levels of lead in their blood.
Villagers believe they were caused by a local chemical plant.
Chen Chun’e, who lives next to the plant, sent some dust samples taken from a window and from the balcony of her house for testing. The results showed that lead content in the dust was 7,780 milligram per kilogram, 21 times the limit for residential areas, the report said.
Also, the dust was found to contain excessive amounts of zinc, mercury and cadmium.
However, Su Genlin, head of the Dapu government, said the children could have ingested excessive amounts lead from habitually biting pencils. Lead in pencils is usually graphite.
Netizens went up in arms and state media promptly criticized Su, calling his remarks ridiculous.
It said the explanation reflects the distorted mindset of local officials who pursue economic growth at any cost.
Also, it said the chemical plant does not meet production quotas and pollution standards and accused local officials of turning a blind eye to it.
On June 15, the local government in Hengdong county, which has jurisdiction over Dapu, said the plant had been shut down and its production facility dismantled.
A team has been dispatched to Dapu to investigate and check other potential polluters.
Meanwhile, the local government has distributed milk and medicines to local residents in an attempt to appease them.
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