Local police in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province on June 12 arrested a college student on suspicion of lacing water drunk by three classmates with highly toxic Thallium, the Nanjing-based Modern Express reported today.
On June 1, three students, all freshmen from the China University of Mining and Technology's Xuhai College (CUMT), were hospitalized after feeling nauseous and vomiting. They had all dined the day before with a classmate in the university's canteen.
Treatment at several hospitals proved inconclusive with initial diagnosis attributing the illness to lime disease or arthritis. As their condition worsened, on June 8, the students were transferred to larger cities. One was moved to Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei, while two others flew to Beijing for treatment.
On June 10, the China Center for Disease Prevention and Control identified a poisonous substance, thallium, as being present in their samples.
The student in Hebei remains in stable condition but his family refused to speak with the media. The other two at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital are recovering well but are still suffering from liver failure, according to a statement from the hospital. Urine tests revealed the thallium level in their bodies was 1,000 times higher than normal. However, this has been reduced to about 100 times after a week of treatment. "It will take at least two months to recover," said Hao Fengtong, director of Occupational Disease Department of the hospital.
The suspect surnamed Chang, was detained by local police on June 12, whereupon he admitted the crime. Chang said "We used to be friends before, but because of some trifling matters we fell out and after that they always ignored me and hid from me." Feeling angry, Chang decided to poison his classmates but the police did not reveal how he obtained the poison or how he made the other three ingest it.
In a national trade standard on public security, thallium compounds and cyanide are both classified as Grade A toxic items. The use of thallium in university labs is also strictly regulated.
According to Zhu Baoli, deputy-director of Jiangsu's Provincial Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the purchase and use of thallium need a supply certificate approved by several departments including the public security department. This is Jiangsu's first instance of thallium poisoning, a very rare occurrence in China.
Zhu said experts from the center analyzed samples collected from the students' dormitory and dining rooms. High thallium content was found in their drinking cups.
The police investigation is still ongoing with the Mayor of Xuzhou expected to brief the press this afternoon.
In December 1994 and March 1995, a student from Tsinghua University twice ingested a lethal dose of Thallium salt. She fell into a coma for several days but was finally declared to be out of danger in May 1995. However, the consequences were very severe since her organism was severely damaged and that she had contracted hepatitis C during a blood transfusion. Now, the 34-year-old is almost entirely paralyzed, has lost the power of speech and relies on her elderly parents for care. It remains unproven whether this case was an instance of intentional poisoning.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Zhang Yunxing, June 20, 2007)