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Firms in poison case boast of safety

Both companies at the center of a probe into lead poisoning of children in Shanghai claim to have won awards for environmental controls and worker health and safety, officials from the firms said yesterday. One of the firms, a large lead-acid battery plant run by US-based Johnson Controls, has been shut down and the lead-related operations of the other, Shanghai Xinmingyuan Automobile Accessory Co, have similarly been ordered suspended by Shanghai's environmental watchdog. The Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau said in a notice on its website yesterday that it was studying lead emissions from the two factories. The Pudong district government said it believed the Johnson Controls factory was the main source of lead emissions in the area. Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls said yesterday that the company was taking residents' concerns about lead exposure "very seriously" and cooperating with the authorities, but that it did not believe its battery factory was causing contamination. Johnson Controls said its Shanghai battery plant was named a "national model enterprise for occupational health and safety" in 2006. The factory has lead emissions at about one-seventh the Chinese national standard and employees are regularly tested to ensure their blood lead levels remain low enough, the company said in a statement. Staff at the other company, Shanghai Xinmingyuan Automobile Accessory Co, confirmed it had stopped its lead-related production, which the environment bureau said was unauthorized. "We did not know that we cannot produce products with lead without a license," Li Zhiliang, a manager at the factory, said yesterday. Li said his plant did not produce any lead emissions. "Actually our products have won awards for environmental protection," Li said. Families living in the Kanghua New Village, a small block of apartment buildings erected 15 years ago to house farm families moved to make way for the Kangqiao Industrial Zone in Pudong, say recent checks showed many of their children have abnorm! ally hig h blood lead levels. So far, 25 children have been detected with excess levels of lead in their blood. The source of the lead contamination has not been confirmed. But the Kanghua New Village is located just north of the industrial zone and close to chemical, battery and electronics equipment factories. China has begun cracking down on emissions of lead and other heavy metals following scores of poisoning cases. Lead poisoning can damage the nervous, muscular and reproductive systems, and children are particularly at risk.

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