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Decorating homes may cause leukemia
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-26 05:40

HARBIN: Home decorating may be a serious danger to your health, particularly your children's, medical experts are warning.

Pollutants in paint and other materials can cause blood diseases, including leukaemia, says Xia Guoqiang, a doctor treating seven-year-old Hong Hong in Harbin, who has been diagnosed with the illness.

Hong Hong, whose parents refurbished their home in November, broke out in spots that her mother at first thought were symptoms of a cold.

When she did not improve, a check at the Harbin No 1 Hospital revealed she had leukaemia.

Ma Jun, head of the blood disease research and treatment centre at the hospital, warned that Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, now has the highest incidence of leukemia in children among the major metropolises in China, with about seven in 100,000.

In Beijing and Shanghai, the figure is 4.6 per 100,000.

"The main cause of the leukaemia is dimethylbenzene," Ma said.

"Children have a much lower immunity than adults and can be affected more by the harmful smell released by indoor decoration materials."

Ma's centre treats about 1,000 children each year.

"More than half of them are the victims of this kind of pollution, I believe," said Ma.

"Refurbishment at home and then at school can be sources of benzene pollution," Ma said.

Director of the Harbin Shicone Indoor Environment Surveillance Lab Zhao Hongfeng says indoor air pollution can be two or three times as bad as outside.

"Long-term contact with harmful gases such as benzene and formaldehyde released by home decoration materials may gradually lead to some respiratory problems as well as blood diseases like leukaemia," he said.

Ma also said there was a rising trend of the children of migrant workers catching blood diseases.

"We think this is because some female migrant workers still do house decoration even when they are pregnant," Ma said.

Each year, parents from rural areas are forced to stop paying for treatment of their children with leukaemia because of the high cost, according to Ma.

It usually takes four years and about 200,000 yuan (US$24,000) to cure the disease, which is a heavy burden for most families in China.

Ma has appealed for a leukaemia treatment fund in Harbin to be set up to help more children fight this disease.

Shanghai now has enough funds and nearly all children who come down with leukaemia are treated.

(China Daily 05/26/2005 page3)

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