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December 26, 2009

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Lead poisoning hits 44 children in factory town

AT least 44 children in a south China economic development area thick with chemical factories have been sickened by elevated lead levels -- the latest of many lead poisonings cases in China to raise concerns about the impact of economic growth on the environment.

These children, mostly from migrant workers' families in Qingyuan City of Guangdong Province, were found sickened after their parents took it upon themselves to have them tested.

A 10-month-old baby was recorded with 550 micrograms of lead to 1-liter blood, well over the safe maximum of 100 micrograms, the locally based Nanfang Daily reported yesterday.

Residents said the real number of sickened people could be much higher if a full check were ordered for every one of more than 600 families living in the area, because the environment there is damaged "beyond imagination."

A sour smell has permeated the air since 2008 and everything in an apartment gets dusty an hour after being wiped clean, a resident named Ye Mulan to the newspaper.

Ye said in spring, when the air is wet, the smell can be so bad that her family does not dare to breathe.

She said the worst is in early morning, because all the factories in the area "only produce at nights to escape the environmental watchdogs."

The newspaper said 221 residents have sent a public letter to the local government with copies of sick children's test results to push them to change the conditions, yet no official has ever responded.

"The economic development is now shortening our lives," said one unnamed resident, as quoted by the newspaper.

The locals are accusing a battery workshop, the nearest factory from the apartment buildings -- only 20 meters away -- of responsibility for the lead poisoning.

Yet the factory fought back, saying it releases lead according to national standards and presenting a certificate issued by the local environmental monitoring station as proof.

The factory's legal representative, Yu Mengzhi, said he did not know why the children tested at elevated lead levels, but he suggested the result could be inaccurate.

Qingyuan's environmental authority told the newspaper that the lead poisoning "could have been related to the battery workshop" because it is the only factory in the area that uses lead as raw material.

Yet it also said the factory is fully licensed and discharging waste according to standards.

For the worried parents, the only recourse has been to buy their children medicines. Yet those were hardly working.

Yang Tianliang's son has finished 10 boxes of drugs yet Yang made him to stop because, instead of his lead level improving, he developed a zinc deficiency.

Another parent said they knew no medicine would work without leaving the polluted area, but they cannot afford to move out.

Eleven officials in northwest China's Shaanxi Province have been punished after 851 children were poisoned by lead leaking from a smelter.


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