After tests last month showed three children in Gaohe in Anhui province had elevated levels of lead in their blood, 280 others were subsequently checked, more than 200 of whom were found to have been poisoned, Xinhua news agency said.
Authorities have now closed both battery plants blamed for the poisoning, the report said.
One of the plants was separated from residences in Gaohe by only a narrow road, it added, in contravention of environmental protection guidelines.
Some of the children affected were just a few months old, the official news agency said.
“When she was a baby, she stayed with my in-laws in Changsha, of the central Hunan Province, and was perfectly healthy. She’s been in Gaohe town for just a few months,” resident Jiang Feng told Xinhua of her poisoned child.
Lead poisoning, which often builds up slowly as a result of repeated exposure to small amounts of lead, can damage various parts of the body including the nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys, and it can cause high blood pressure and anaemia.
Lead is especially harmful to the developing brains of young children and can cause consequences that may be irreversible including learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
China’s environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning as cases of mass poisoning 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. Reuters