State-run China Central Television aired a report Saturday on high levels of lead in the blood of over 300 children in Dapu township, which included interviews with parents who noted their children's stunted growth, stomach pains and memory impairment. The report then linked the lead poisoning to the nearby Meilun Chemical Materials plant.
However, Su Genlin, head of the Dapu township government, said on the air, "Students, when they're studying at school, they chew on pencils. That can also cause lead poisoning."
His comments provoked angry reactions across China, including one from the People's Daily, the China Communist Party's official newspaper. After noting there is no lead in pencils, only graphite, the newspaper said, "This argument that chewing pencils will lead to excessive levels of lead, is it ignorance or disregard and disdain for the health and well-being of the people?"
Another commentator, Zhou Minghua, said online, "The responsibility of the pollution lies in the mouths of children? The core of pencils is mostly graphite and clay. This mayor has broken through the lowest level of humanity, pulled the logic of power down to the freezing point and displayed the cold-blooded nature of his authority."
The angry reaction to Su's comment reflected a concern in China that harmful effects of some industries tend to be ignored if employment and prosperity are the benefits, and government officials are sometimes accused of collusion with companies.
Over the weekend, Hunan's Hengdong County government began shutting down Meilun Chemical Materials plant.