BEIJING (Reuters) - The general manager of a battery plant in eastern China faces environmental pollution charges after lead emissions from the plant poisoned nearly 170 villagers, including 53 children, state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday.
Ying Jianguo, manager at the Taizhou Suqi Storage Battery Co. Ltd in Zhejiang province, was detained on Friday, said Pan Fangdi, a local official.
He added that three government officials, including the deputy chief of the district's environmental protection office, were suspended for failing to supervise the region properly.
In the latest of a string of heavy metal pollution cases in China, 168 villagers in the Shangtao village near Taizhou city were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood, Xinhua reported, citing local officials and a provincial health department statement.
Three of the adults had more than three times the safe limit for humans, the report added, although nobody was found to be suffering from severe lead poisoning.
"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 probably 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 problem is fixed, Xinhua said.
In January state media reported that more than 200 children in another eastern province had 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 anaemia.
Lead is especially harmful for young children as it can lead to learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
China's environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning as cases of mass poisoning have aroused 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 Ken Wills and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alan Raybould)