Chinese Factory Closes After 300 Kids Sickened

BEIJING (AP) -- Authorities in northern China have shut down a smelter after it was found to have caused lead poisoning that sickened more than 300 children, state media reported on Wednesday.

The move appeared to be a rare victory for health advocates in China, where pollution concerns are often ignored and those who raise complaints face harassment.

Families who lived near the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in Shaanxi province began bringing in sick children to hospitals and clinics in July and blamed the factory, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

An investigation showed that lead from the factory had leaked into the soil, air and water source for 425 families residing near the factory in the town of Changqing, the report said.

Local officials say they plan to relocate all 581 households living with 500 meters (1,600 feet) of the factory within the next two years, the report said.

Calls to local government authorities rang unanswered Wednesday.

Factory accidents and chemical leaks are common in China and are often blamed on lax enforcement of environmental regulations and safety rules and poor worker training.

Lead poisoning, which most commonly occurs in children, can damage the nervous and reproductive system, cause high blood pressure, anemia, memory loss, and in extreme cases, cause victims to fall into comas and die.

China's waterways, especially its major rivers, are dangerously polluted after decades of rapid economic growth and poor enforcement of pollution controls.

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