Chinese authorities Monday started administering health checks on all children living near a battery factory in the south of the country and closed the plant after more than 40 children were found with lead poisoning.
The discovery of clusters of lead poisoning in recent months has sparked unrest and growing domestic anger over public safety scandals in which children have been the main victims. The incidents also highlight the heavy environmental cost of China's rapid economic development.
Excessive amounts of lead in the body can harm the nervous and reproductive systems and cause high blood pressure and anemia. In severe cases, it can lead to convulsions, coma and death.
Children living in Yinyuan, an industrial district in Guangdong province about 30 yards (30 meters) away from the battery factory Aokelai Power Co. Ltd., were to begin receiving health examinations Monday, said a statement from the Qingyuan municipal government.
A report by the official Southern Daily newspaper earlier this month said 44 children living in the area had excessive levels of lead in their blood.
The government statement says the city's environmental bureau ordered the battery plant to shut down on Saturday after tests on the factory's water discharge found lead content exceeding provincial safety standards.
Last month, Chinese authorities said they would relocate 1,400 families in northern Shaanxi province who live near a smelter that caused lead poisoning in about 850 children, after protests erupted in August. Similar reports of lead poisoning have emerged in Yunnan, Fujian and other provinces in recent months, affecting more than 3,000 children.
The ruling Communist Party is worried that mass protests will threaten the country's social stability and considers the demonstrations a serious challenge to its grip on power.