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December 30, 2009

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Checks on workers after mercury poison scare

URINE samples from 591 workers in south China's Guangdong Province are being tested after 23 of their colleagues were diagnosed as suffering from mercury poisoning, local health authorities said yesterday.

Medical personnel with the Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases collected the samples from workers at the T8 workshop of the Foshan Electrical Lighting Co Ltd from December 18 to 20, said Yang Aichu, director of the center's outpatient department.

In mid December, 23 workers on production lines using liquid mercury were found to have excess mercury in their urine, said Lu Ruijin, the company's human resource manager.

Some of the victims showed symptoms such as headaches, hair loss, aching joints and trembling, Lu said.

"I never wore the mask the company offered me, because I felt uncomfortable with it," said a 55-year-old worker, Jiang Enqing.

Mercury poisoning is often caused by inhalation of mercury vapor and the dust of mercury compounds. For lighting companies, adopting solid mercury can reduce the risk of poisoning, Yang said.

So far, the company has applied solid mercury on 80 percent of its production lines. It has shut down five remaining ones using liquid mercury in the T8 workshop and planned to transform them by the end of January next year, Lu said.

It also promised to cover examination fees for all its employees.


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