BEIJING (Reuters) - Lead emissions from a battery plant in eastern China have poisoned more than 100 villagers, including 35 children, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday, the latest in a string of heavy metal pollution cases in the country.
A total of 139 villagers in a village near Taizhou city in coastal Zhejiang province have been found to have elevated lead levels in their blood, Xinhua cited the provincial health department as saying in a statement.
Three of the adults had lead in their blood more than three times the safe limit for humans, the report added, though nobody was found to be suffering from severe lead poisoning.
Officials blamed a nearby battery plant.
"An inspection of the battery plant showed that lead readings in gas and water discharged from the plant exceeded the legal limit, which also resulted in excessive lead in the earth nearby," it quoted local environment official Jiang Xincai as saying.
Villagers are being advised to avoid eating food grown in the area as the lead had likely contaminated groundwater, Xinhua said.
The battery plant is located just metres away from the village and opened in 2005, it added.
Production has now been halted and will not be resumed until the pollution issue is fixed, Xinhua said.
In January state media reported that more than 200 children in another eastern province had also been poisoned by lead from battery plants located too close to houses.
Lead poisoning often builds up slowly as a result of repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. It can damage various parts of the body, including the nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys, and it can also cause high blood pressure and anemia.
Lead is especially harmful for young children as it can lead to learning difficulties and behavioral problems.
China's environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning as cases of mass poisoning have created widespread public anger.
In 2009, protesters broke into a smelting works they blamed for the lead poisoning of more than 600 children, smashing trucks and tearing down fences.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)