CHINA> National
Tests confirm widespread lead poisoning
By Zhu Xingxin in Fujian and Wang Qian in Beijing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-28 08:07

Medical tests have shown at least 121 children living near a battery plant in eastern China are suffering from lead poisoning, the latest in a string of such cases that have affected thousands.

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Two medical agencies tested 287 children under 14 years of age and found 121 of them had excessive levels of lead in their blood, the government of Shanghang county in Fujian province said in a statement over the weekend. An investigation was ongoing, it said.

The statement said that 120 children had lead levels between 100 and 200 micrograms per liter of blood and one child had 218 mcg/l.

Normal lead content in blood ranges from zero to 100 mcg/l. Human health is affected when it exceeds 200 mcg/l.

Ten days ago, the government ordered the Huaqiang Battery Plant, the suspected source of the lead pollution, to shut down after local villagers approached authorities with test results showing lead poisoning in some children, residents said.

"The battery plant should be shut down forever. It will destroy our village if it reopens," villagers told China Daily, adding that the air and water pollution caused by the plant is the biggest threat to their health.

A villager in his 40s surnamed Fu told China Daily yesterday that they did not believe any medical tests taken by the local hospitals, because many villagers found that test results from the local hospitals are different than those taken out of the province.

"If the provincial hospital tested 60 to 80 mcg/l, hospitals outside Fujian will be much higher," Fu said, adding that police officers in his village are preventing residents from going outside the province for medical tests.

Lin Xu, vice head of Shanghang county, said the government will cover medical costs for lead poisoning treatment and test all children under 14 living within 600 m of the plant.

Authorities have said rational demands from the victims will be met.

The Shanghang Huaqiang battery factory started operations in 2006 and its discharges have affected about 3,000 residents in three nearby villages: Jiaoyang, Tangxia and Chongtou.

The local authorities have launched an investigation into the lead poisoning scandal and have taken environmental protection measures around the plant.

It will also hire a non-local qualified environmental evaluation agency to evaluate the plant's pollution.

China has reported clusters of lead poisoning cases this year in provinces such as Shaanxi, Hunan and Yunnan, which has sparked angry protests.

Excessive levels of lead in the body can harm the nervous and reproductive systems, cause high blood pressure and anemia and, in extreme cases, can lead to convulsions resulting in a coma or even death, Wang Zhiguo, a doctor at the Longyan Health Center, told China Daily.

The Fujian case first came to light when student Fu Xiaohua began suffering from diarrhea and dizziness. He was taken to a hospital in the provincial capital of Fuzhou for tests at the end of last month.

The results showed the child had an excessive 144 mcg/l. Other villagers followed and 80 out of 100 residents tested were found to have high levels of lead in their blood.

Xinhua and AP contributed to the story