Officials from Gansu Province in northwest China have confirmed that two hundred and fifty youngsters are still in hospital being treated for high levels of lead in their blood and a number of them are suffering from severe lead poisoning.
Residents of the Xinsi and Mouba villages were poisoned by work being carried-out at a lead smelting plant that continued production this summer after being told by the authorities to cease operations. The facility has since been demolished.
Of those being treated in hospital four are suffering from sever poisoning which is indicated by blood-lead levels above 450 milligrams of lead per liter of blood. At least one child has been tested at a level of 619 milligrams. One hundred and fifty-five villagers were treated in hospital suffering from mild lead poisoning which occurs 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 considered excessive or above 100 milligrams.
Adults usually recover from mildly increased lead levels but it can affect the intelligence of youngsters. People who survive severe lead poisoning can suffer permanent brain damage.
The number suffering from poisoning and 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 were now in a stable condition after being treated with vitamin supplements.
The local hospital was unable to conduct the normal blood tests to indicate levels of lead toxicity and has been urged to purchase the required medical equipment. A panel of experts from the Ministry of Health and Gansu provincial health department on Wednesday established a plan to provide more accessible blood tests for villagers in the county.
Earlier figures provided by the Huixian county government indicated that 877 people from the villages had tested positive for excessive amounts of lead in their blood. These tests had to be 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 high lead levels have been hospitalized.
The government of the county has said it will provide funds to the villagers who had to travel to Xi'an for tests.
The Huixian County Non-Ferrous Metal Smelting Co. Ltd. is being held responsible for causing the public health crisis and polluting the environment. The soil within a radius of 400 meters of the smelting plant has been polluted and the provincial environmental protection bureau has ordered the facility to 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 an upgrade in 2004 and its waste disposal equipment doesn’t meet national standards. The factory continued to operate secretly after being instructed to close earlier this year.
(Xinhua News Agency September 15, 2006)