Several staff members at a hospital in Jining, Shandong province, have been suspended after 21 fetuses and infant corpses were discovered in a river on the outskirts of the city on Sunday.
Local health authorities together with the police have launched an investigation into the discovery, Zhong Haitao, the office director of the Jining health bureau, told China Daily on Tuesday.
Residents discovered several corpses under a bridge spanning the Guangfu River on Sunday, the provincial news website www.iqilu.com reported.
"The morality of those who dumped the bodies is corrupt. They can't just discard bodies like this," a local resident in his 20s was quoted as saying on the website.
It is difficult to determine the ages of the deceased because of the decomposition of the corpses, but their sizes suggest they were very young babies, with the largest measuring 60 cm long, the Beijing News reported on Tuesday.
"The corpses could have been those of aborted fetuses or babies who died of illness at local hospitals. They might have been dumped into a rubbish bin and some of them fell into the nearby river," Zhong was quoted as saying.
A total of 21 fetuses and infant corpses were found at the site. Eight of the bodies had tabs with clinical data attached to their feet, which showed the bodies were from the subsidiary hospital of Jining Medical University, the investigation has revealed.
"The hospital's medical staff involved have been suspended, pending the investigation," Zhong said.
"They will be handled in accordance with the law after all facts are ascertained," he said.
An investigation to determine the origins of the other 13 bodies is underway.
Aborted fetuses or babies who die of illness in hospitals are a "kind of medical waste" and should have been cremated according to relevant regulations, Zhong said.
Local residents are worried the dumped bodies will have contaminated the drinking water.
The municipal environmental department said the most recent tests show the water is safe, though the river is not a source of drinking water.
Last June, the bodies of eight people - two adults and six fetuses - who died at a hospital in Central China's Hubei province were found dumped at a nearby construction site.
Media have often reported that hospital morgues across China hold a large number of unclaimed bodies, which take up space and reduce working efficiency.
Experts have said no laws or regulations specifically stipulate how to handle unclaimed bodies.