» 10/08/2009, 00.00
Henan: protests over lead poisoning in children continue
About 80 per cent of schoolchildren show signs of poisoning; about 100 are diagnosed with severe levels. A plant owned by the Henan Yuguang Gold and Lead Company was shut down in August. Government is trying to move residents. Many adults are also showing signs of blood lead poisoning, but doctors tend to underreport. Internet forum where criticism is aired is shut down.
Beijing (AsiaNews/CHRD) – Residents from a number of villages in Jiyuan (Henan) continue to protest as they have done for months over what they believe is an inadequate response by local authorities to widespread cases of lead poisoning caused by pollution from a nearby lead company. Back in August the Henan Yuguang Gold and Lead Company was forced to shut down a number of plants after residents complained about high levels of lead in children’s blood, a condition that can lead to physical ailments, behavioural problems, stunted growth, brain damage and even death.
According to a resident of Shibin, nearly 80 per cent of the village’s schoolchildren under the age of 14 have tested positive for moderate lead poisoning, and over 100 have been diagnosed with severe lead poisoning.
Because the company wants the plants to reopen as soon as possible, local authorities have been forced to move elementary and middle school students to another school in Jiyuan, offering nutritional therapy to the children most seriously affected.
Local officials have also offered living stipends totalling 720 RMB per month for families with small children who wish to move away from the most heavily polluted areas, but for many residents the offer is inadequate.
Adults have also been tested but some residents suspect that doctors have been ordered to underreport cases of adult lead poisoning.
A local website, the Jiyuan Discussion Forum, was recently blocked and posts by villagers were deleted because they criticised the authorities.
In recent months, cases of large-scale lead poisoning have been reported in other provinces like Shaanxi, Hunan and Fujian.
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Human Rights Watch makes the accusation after releasing a report that shows that local authorities in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Hunan tampered with medical tests to hide the problem. Even so, medical care is not enough in villages that are contaminated.
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A factory in the eastern province of Anhui operated illegally for years a few feet away from homes. In 2010 they nine cases of lead pollution were officially recorded. The government is in trouble, as evidenced by the conviction of the activist who exposed the scandal of melamine-tainted milk.
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