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Students, Teacher Suffer Lead Poisoning

Thirty-four students and a teacher from a village primary school in north China's Hebei Province have been hospitalized with lead poisoning at a Beijing hospital, authorities said.


The group is now at the Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, an institution well known for its treatment of poisoning cases, said Ma Dejun of the government press office in Hebei's Xinglong County.


Dozens of students in Grade Two fell sick and began to vomit after complaining about a strange smell last Monday morning in Shapoyu Village, Xinglong County, Chengde City. A lead smelter is located in the village.


So far, 126 other students and villagers who came to Beijing for medical examinations were released after doctors found lead levels in their blood to be normal, Ma told China Daily.


Meanwhile, 99 students who chose to stay in the village after feeling ill had blood tests done on Friday by experts from Chaoyang Hospital. “The partial results we have now are all normal,” Ma said.


But he noted that complete test results are not yet available.


The 34 students and one teacher hospitalized in Beijing are stable and no longer showing symptoms of poisoning, sources at Chaoyang Hospital said.


Gao Xing, director of the Beijing Municipal Preventive Medicine Research Center, which analyzed the students' blood, pointed out that although the 35 patients were found to have abnormally high lead levels, this does not necessarily mean they were poisoned by lead.


“Diagnosing a person with lead poisoning requires three factors: laboratory examination results, clinical symptoms and physical condition,” he explained.


Gao said that there is no national standard for a child's blood lead level. The current standard used for classifying normal or abnormal, 100 micrograms per liter of blood, was introduced from overseas.


The State Environmental Protection Administration has designated the Hebei provincial bureau as the agency to conduct an investigation into the Shapoyu Village to find causes for the incident.


The Chengde Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau also has sent officials to collect air and water samples.


Shapoyu villager Jiang Zhantong wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Xinglong County Party Committee, Wu Haihui, asking the government to help close down the iron mines in the village.


“Private bosses of the mines have not adopted any measures to prevent pollution of the air and water,” he said.


Wu Haihui has made a public apology to villagers and said the county government is responsible for the accident. He stated that if the cause is confirmed to be pollution from the lead smelter, the smelter owner will cover the medical fees of the victims. If not, the government will pay the hospital bills.


(China Daily March 22, 2004)

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