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December 19, 2009

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Treatments doing little to help lead-poisoned children: report

THE government's free treatment has been of little help to the lead-poisoned children in Shaanxi Province's Fengxiang County, where lead from a smelter poisoned 851 children in August and is still shadowing the area.

The four-month treatment has not reduced the excessive lead in the children's blood to a safe level. The blood lead content of Lei Xingyue, the most poisoned child in the county, was still three times higher than the safe range, Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

Lei's mother said her girl now looks pretty healthy, yet the doctor told her that lead poisoning could show symptoms after as long as eight years.

The free treatment was not offered to every victim. The government-ordered blood test was only for kids under 14.

One teenager tried to kill herself because she was too old for the free tests and her parents cannot afford one.

The government is only covering the medical expenses for severely hit kids, those who have blood lead level higher than 250 micrograms per liter. The safe maximum is considered 100 micrograms.

Health conditions for other kids were only slightly improving, as they only got milk, dried vegetables and nuts that the government said could help expel lead from the body.

The government did not say how long the lead poisoning would affect the area's environment. Half of the county's kids have left their hometowns and transferred to schools in other villages to keep away from the pollution.

"The kids who stayed are losing their friends because everybody who can afford it is moving out," said a senior villager in the county.

He said his fifth-grader grandson used to be a lively and happy boy, but became more silent after the tragedy happened.

The parents are dreading to see their children leave for their school. They could not afford to follow their kids to move to the safe region, according to the report.

Pan Hongying, whose son transferred to a school in another village, said she has to spend almost 6,000 yuan (US$879) on the school fees. Her family's yearly income was only 20,000 yuan.

The relocation of the families started last month, yet few villagers have agreed to the plan, being uncertain whether they will lose farmland after the relocation.

"We still don't know how much compensation we'll get," said Sun Yagang, a villager in Sunjianantou.


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