A smelting plant in northwest China's Shaanxi province was shut down Monday amid public anger over heavy metal discharges that have left at least 851 children ill as of Tuesday.
Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co in Fengxiang County in the city of Baoji, had been ordered by environment protection authorities to suspend lead and zinc production on Aug 6, after sporadic cases of lead poisoning were reported among children from two villages near the factory site.
But during a protest Monday this week villagers complained the factory's coke facilities were still operational. The plant produces 100,000 tons of lead and zinc and 700,000 tons of coke annually.
"The workers were told not to wear uniforms to work, and workshops have been brightly-lit until midnight," said a resident from Madaokou Village, which is close to the plant.
Baoji Mayor Dai Zhengshe said Monday coke production had not been halted immediately because of fears that gas in pipelines might explode.
He ordered an immediate halt to all production Monday.
"We had to make sure the gas in the pipeline was exhausted before the shutdown," said Dai. "Now we've closed down the plant, we won't allow it to open again until it has been proven it will not harm villagers."
Dai, who arrived at the plant Monday noon amid a protest by hundreds of villagers, apologized for the lead poisoning and its harmful effects on residents.