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250 Children Hospitalized for Excessive Lead in Blood

Two hundred and fifty children from Gansu Province remain in hospital with excessive amounts of lead in their blood and a number of them are suffering from severe lead poisoning, confirmed officials from the province in northwest China.

Residents of Xinsi and Mouba villages were poisoned by a lead smelting plant that continued to operate this summer after being told to cease production but has now been demolished.

Of those being treated in hospital four of them are suffering from sever lead poisoning which is indicated by blood-lead levels above 450 milligrams of lead per litre of blood. At least one child has been tested with lead levels of 619 milligrams. One hundred and fifty-five villagers were treated in hospital suffering from mild lead poisoning which is reached when blood readings exceed 200 milligrams. Eleven children had readings of 350 milligrams. The 88 other hospitalized villagers, including eight adults, have blood-lead levels that are considered excessive or above 100 milligrams.

Adults usually recover from mildly elevated lead levels but children can suffer permanent impairment of their intelligence. People who survive severe toxic lead levels are likely to suffer some permanent brain damage.

The number of people reported hospitalized has risen by 79 since Monday, said Bao Fuzhen, head of the occupational disease section of the Gansu provincial disease prevention and control center.

Bao said the 250 hospitalized children, all of whom are under the age of 14, are being treated at both the Xijing Hospital in the neighboring Shaanxi Province and at a local county hospital.

Regular examinations and clinical observation showed that most of the patients are now in stable condition after being treated with vitamin supplements.

The local hospital was unable to conduct blood tests to indicate lead toxicity but has been urged to purchase the required medical devices. A panel of experts from the Ministry of Health and the Gansu provincial health department on Wednesday have established a plan to provide more accessible blood tests for villagers in the county.

Earlier figures provided by the Huixian county government show that 877 people from the villages have tested positive with at least excessive amounts of lead in their blood. Their tests had tobe conducted at the Xijing Hospital in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, 300 kilometers away from Huixian County.Not all of those with elevated lead levels have been hospitalized.

The government of the county has said it will provide subsidies to the villagers who had to travel to Xi'an for tests.

The Huixian County Non-Ferrous Metal Smelting Co. Ltd. is being blamed for causing the public health crisis and polluting the environment.

The soil within a radius of 400 meters around the smelting plant has been polluted and the provincial environmental protection bureau has ordered the smelter to be be dismantled.

The former state-run plant was privatized in 1996 and produced about 5,000 tons of lead a year.

It failed to go through an environmental assessment after its upgrade in 2004, and its waste disposal equipment did not meet national standards.

The factory continued to operate secretly after being told to cease production earlier this year.

(Xinhua News Agency September 14, 2006)

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