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February 27th, 2012:

500 children latest victims of pollution

SCMP – 27 Feb 2012

Cases of lead poisoning in Guangxi, Guangdong and Henan raise concerns among residents and environmentalists over toll of heavy-metal mining

A flurry of lead-poisoning cases has hit several industrial hubs on the mainland, raising concerns over widespread heavy-metal pollution and its unsettling human toll.

Environmentalists warn that the recent revelation by mainland media – which reported that more than 500 children are suffering from lead poisoning in Guangxi , Guangdong and Henan – is only the tip of the iceberg. They say the reports again test Beijing’s commitments to tackling metal pollution troubles.

Hechi , a booming mining city in northwestern Guangxi, has been hit by another heavy-metal pollution scandal just weeks after one of the country’s worst cadmium spills.

At least 103 children, from one month to 15 years old, in Nandan county have excessive concentrations of lead in their blood, The Economic Observer reported over the weekend.

In several blood tests at local hospitals, lead levels ranged from 100 to 256 milligrams per litre in the past few months; five blood samples exceeded 200mg per litre, compared with normal levels of zero to 100mg.

A level over 200mg is considered hazardous, and medical studies indicate it can impair children’s mental health and affect their growth.

According to the news report, all of the children with lead poisoning live near as many as nine heavy-metal smelters in Chehe township.

Nandan and Hechi are famous for non-ferrous metal mines. But years of excessive mining and authorities’ lax control have wreaked havoc on the environment and public health.

Locals have for years complained about the filthy air, dirty river and other pollution problems, but they say the county has simply ignored their grievances. Seventeen residents in Tanghan village, Chehe township, were even sentenced to jail 10 years ago for participating in a protest against the smelters.

Residents contended that the actual number of lead-poisoning cases could be as many as 200, because dozens of families had moved in the past year and were not included in the newspaper’s calculation.

But Nandan said only 31 children had been found to have excessive lead concentrations, and the figure hadn’t been updated since August.

Guangdong was also hit by an outbreak of lead poisoning this month, with 96 children in Renhua county, Shaoguan city, found with excessive lead concentrations in their blood, China News Service reported on Saturday.

Experts from the Ministry of Environmental Protection have been assigned to investigate the outbreak. Guangdong authorities promised to aid affected families and shut down polluters after the investigation.

According to The Southern Metropolis News, several metal smelters have sprung up in the Dongtang township of Guangdong since the 1990s. Villagers said they have often been choked awake at night by smoke from the smelters, and their crop yields have dropped significantly over the years.

But they did not realise the health problems associated with pollution until last year when several children began showing symptoms of metal poisoning, such as hair loss and eating disorders.

Both outbreaks were revealed just days after more than 300 children in Lingbao city, Henan, were found with excessive lead concentrations in their blood.