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Local Authorities Slammed for Pollution Cover-ups

Official dereliction of duty has been blamed for a mass lead poisoning incident in Gansu Province. A smelting plant was seriously polluting the environment, but local officials covered this up for about 10 years.

Pan Yue, deputy director of China's top environmental watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), slammed the local government and environment bureau, and called for harsh punishments.

In another serious pollution incident, two factories in Hunan Province were found last week to have contaminated a local river with arsenic, jeopardizing the safety of 80,000 people.

"Although the plants were the cause of the pollution, the root of the problem lies with the local governments," Pan said yesterday.

"To serve their own interests, some local environment departments even spearheaded the cover-ups," Pan added.

He described the cases as "typical examples of pollution problems caused by a dereliction of duty of local governments and environment bureaus."

"Officials must be held accountable," Pan warned, advocating "harsh administrative punishments."

The factory at the center of the lead poisoning scandal in Huixian County of Gansu had been in operation for 10 years, but according to Pan, it never met national emissions standards.

In 2003 alone, 201 tons of noxious fumes were released into the atmosphere by the plant, more than 800 times the national acceptable standard, Pan said.

But the damage it was inflicting on local people only became known by accident.

In April this year, a five-year-old boy named Zhou Hao was electrocuted and had to undergo emergency treatment. Doctors were forced to amputate his arm, and while administering a blood transfusion they discovered abnormally high levels of lead in his blood.

In total 368 people have been poisoned, 258 of them hospitalized including 250 children, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The number could rise as more people are undergoing blood tests, according to Xinhua.

"The illegal pollutant discharge lasted for more than 10 years. The local government and environment bureau definitely will not escape responsibility," Pan said.

The factory, Huixian Hongyu Nonferrous Smelting Co Ltd, has been shut down.

As for the arsenic pollution in Hunan's Yueyang County, Pan said this was definitely not an accident because the dumping had been going on for a year.

"The local government and environment bureau should be held responsible for turning a blind eye," he said.

(China Daily September 15, 2006)

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