BEIJING (AP) -- Nearly 1,000 children in a central Chinese province have tested positive for excessive lead in their blood, state media reported Tuesday, the latest of several lead poisoning cases involving thousands of children across the country.
After reports of large-scale lead poisoning in neighboring Shaanxi province, the health bureau in Jiyuan City, Henan province, conducted blood tests on 2,743 children under the age of 14, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted the bureau's director, Wei Zongchang, as saying.
Signs of lead poisoning were found in 968 of the children who live near three major lead smelters, Xinhua said.
China's rapid economic development has often come at the cost of heavy environmental pollution. Lead poisoning can damage the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and memory loss.
Similar reports of lead poisoning have emerged in Yunnan, Fujian and Shaanxi provinces in recent months, and the number of affected children is now past 3,000.
Anger in China is growing over public safety scandals in which children have been the main victims -- a concern for the ruling Communist Party, which is concerned about social stability and any challenges to its authority.
Last month, residents of the village of Shibin in Jiyuan City demonstrated in front of the factories to protest the pollution, Xinhua said.
Jiyuan Mayor Zhao Suping told Xinhua the city's lead poisoning is the result of long-term pollution. The city has been producing lead for 52 years, he said.
Yang Anguo, the head of China's largest lead producer, Yuguang Gold and Lead Group, told Xinhua: "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."
In response to the test results, city officials have suspended production at 32 of 35 electrolytic lead plants and shut down some production lines at the other three major plants, Duan Xizhong, head of the local Communist Party committee, told Xinhua.
Families with children living within 1,000 yards (meters) of the smelters have been moved away.