AFP

BEIJING

A Chinese government official who blamed lead poisoning in more than 300 children on the possible chewing of school pencils was excoriated in state-run media and ridiculed online Monday.

Lead levels as high as three times national standards were found in the blood of children in a village in the central province of Hunan, with the contamination blamed on pollution from a local chemical plant, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

The factory has been closed down for investigation, Xinhua said citing local officials. But Su Genlin, the chief of Dapu township, told the told state broadcaster CCTV that ‘Kids use pencils in school, and chewing pencils could also cause the excessive (lead) levels.’

In Chinese, the character for the heavy metal is also used in the word for pencil, in the same way that ‘lead’ has a double meaning in English. The online mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist party, the People’s Daily, blasted the official in an op-ed published on Monday. ‘It is scientific knowledge that pencils are made from graphite,’ the article by commentator Zhang Yusheng said.