BEIJING (AP) -- More than 1,300 children have been sickened by lead poisoning in central China, the second such case involving a large number of children this month, state media said Thursday.
The official Xinhua News Agency said 1,354 children -- or nearly 70 percent of the children tested -- who lived near a manganese processing plant in Wenping township in Hunan province were found to have excessive lead in their blood.
Local authorities shut down the Hunan smelter last week and detained two of its executives on suspicion of "causing severe environment pollution," Xinhua said. General manager Liu Zhongwu was still at large, it said.
A staffer from the Wenping township government office who declined to give his name said the numbers are expected to rise as more children are tested.
Calls to local health offices rang unanswered Thursday.
It is the latest case showing serious environmental problems caused by China's economic growth. For decades, many Chinese companies dumped poisons into rivers and the ground rather than disposing them safely, counting on the acquiescence of local governments unwilling to damage their economic lifelines.
Earlier this week in a separate case, villagers in northern Shaanxi province clashed with police and government officials as they protested the operations of the Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. in the town of Changqing.
At least 615 out of 731 children in two villages near that smelter tested positive for lead poisoning, which can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss. Children from six other villagers there are now being tested.
In the Hunan case, the children are from four villages near the Wugang Manganese Smelting Plant in Wenping, Xinhua said. It said the children are being tested again in the provincial capital, Changsha, to see how serious their cases are.
As of Thursday, Changsha health authorities had results for 83 cases: 17 were found to have "moderate poisoning" with between 250 and 499 milligrams of lead per liter of blood, 28 as "slight poisoning" with 200 to 249 mg., and 38 others with 100 to 199 mg., Xinhua said.
It quoted Huang Wenbin, deputy environment chief in Wugang, as saying the plant opened in May 2008 without the approval of the local environmental protection bureau.
It said a primary school, a middle school and a kindergarten were within 500 yards (meters) of the plant.
Fears of lead poisoning began to spread among villagers in early July when many children became susceptible to colds and suffered fevers and other ailments, Xinhua said.