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September 17, 2009

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3 die, 17 hospitalized in toxic-waste fallout

THREE people died and 17 required medical treatment after they were exposed to bags of a toxic chemical illegally dumped by a factory in east China's Zhejiang Province, the local government said yesterday.

Four of the people sickened were children who played near the chemical, 2,4-dinitrophenol - a poison used in scientific research and in manufacturing various chemicals, explosives and pesticides, according to a statement by the government in Dongyang, a city 250 kilometers southwest of Shanghai.

Investigators were holding four people believed responsible for the poisonings, which occurred on Sunday, and city officials pledged to tighten waste-disposal controls.

An inquiry found that chemicals were dumped into plastic bags by a local chemicals factory and illegally passed on to a garbage collector, who then sold the bags to another waste collector.

The three people killed were all transporting the bags when they fell ill, the government statement said.

It was unclear why the collectors bought the chemicals or if they knew what was in the bags. But migrants scraping out a livelihood by selling waste to the country's thriving recycling industry scrounge for whatever they can find, without any protective gear or safety precautions.

Although four of the injured required intensive care, the condition of all 17 had "basically stabilized," the Dongyang government said.

Control of hazardous chemicals is a chronic problem in China, where workshops and factories have sprung up all over the countryside.

Decades of breakneck industrialization has left many areas polluted with chemicals and heavy metals dumped by factories.


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