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Mysterious Deaths: Workers’ Nightmare
Lu Yingkuai hopes to have better luck than his three colleagues at a wristwatch chain-polishing workshop: All in their early 30s, they died "mysteriously" within one year.

Lu, 33, fainted at his worktable on September 7, after 13 years of work at the factory in Huizhou, Guangdong Province. He was diagnosed with poison-related hepatitis and early phase pneumoconiosis.

Chen Jie, another of his 130 colleagues in the workshop, is now undergoing poison-extraction treatment at a facility in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

"I began to have headaches, and started to sneeze and sweat last September. I thought (it was) nothing but a cold," Chen said.

He collapsed on December 4.

Doctors have tentatively diagnosed Chen as having "precious metal poisoning."

Many factory workers now show the same symptoms and some 40 of them have refused to resume work at the Fuhui Industrial Co. Ltd., which has some 1,000 employees. It is a joint venture with a Hong Kong firm.

The 130 workers at Lu's workshop are exposed to poisons such as silicon dioxide and heavy metal on a daily basis, said xinhuanet.com, but the company did not warn them of the hazardous conditions.

Working conditions in Fuhui are stark. Eighty hours of overtime a month is not unusual. Sometimes workers work 48 hours straight.

They are often covered with black particles. Only after the three workers died did the firm distribute some "shabby" gauze masks.

To save power costs, the firm shut four of the six ventilation fans. Perfunctory cleanup at the particles-filled workshops only occurred for occasional visits by customers or inspections, workers said.

The most recent victim died on July 12. On August 28, Fuhui management ordered a factory-wide thorough cleaning, lasting 12 hours until 2 o'clock the next morning.

In early September, the workshop walls were painted, gauze masks were offered and all the ventilation devices swung to full function.

When some workers produced their medical reports they obtained after paying out of their own pockets, firm officials said, "Get away if you fear death."

The workers paid for the medical reports themselves, because they always got "faring OK" reports at the checkups organized by Fuhui.

Even at the same medical facility, a worker would get different versions of reports on their lungs, according to workers.

The hospital apparently had some-thing to hide. When three Fuhui workers demanded medical records on November 18, the hospital told them that "the medical records have yet to be completed."

They were admitted to the hospital on October 28.

Twenty-seven workers had a test in mid-September at another hospital in Huizhou. Twenty-five were diagnosed with pneumoconiosis.

(eastday.com December 24, 2002)

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