354 people, including 146 children, in northwest China's Gansu Province have been confirmed to be suffering from lead poisoning, according to local officials. The victims are villagers from Xinsi and Muba Villages in Huixian County.
The sick children have been hospitalized and the local government is reportedly paying for their treatment. None of their conditions is serious, local officials said. Hu Hongtao, head of the county government's publicity department, disputed rumors that more than 1,000 had been hospitalized.
The first patient was a five-year-old boy who was found to be suffering from lead poisoning in a hospital in Xi'an when he was undergoing treatment for a different medical emergency. His symptoms included a loss of appetite, stomach pain and weight loss.
Other children with similar symptoms were then sent for checkups, which is when more cases were discovered.
Villagers suspect that discharge from a nearby lead smelting plant is the cause of the poisoning. The plant reportedly caused severe water and air pollution. Production at the plant has been suspended, and water sources are being tested.
Excessive amounts of lead in the body harms the nervous and reproductive systems and can cause high blood pressure and anemia.
(Xinhua News Agency September 7, 2006)