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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 September 2006, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Lead poisoning hits China village
Villagers with certificates showing lead poisoning outside a hospital in Xian
Whole families are reported to be affected
Hundreds of villagers in north-west China have been sickened by lead poisoning linked to pollution from a local plant, media reports say.

Residents of two villages in Gansu province's Hui county were said to be seeking hospital treatment after blood tests showed high levels of lead.

Air-born pollution from a nearby smelter was the suspected cause, Chinese and Hong Kong newspapers said.

China's poor record on environmental pollution is sparking mounting unease.

Rapid economic expansion and a push to achieve development targets have sometimes led to safety and environmental concerns being ignored.

'Airborne waste'

The Beijing Daily Messenger said that health officials in the villages of Xinsi and Moba had found almost every family had high levels of lead in their blood.

Map of the area

The daily said 879 people had been affected, but other reports put the figures into the thousands.

An official in Hui county told the Associated Press news agency that a nearby plant was the apparent cause.

"We suspect that they were sickened by pollution caused by a lead smelter nearby that discharged waste into the air," he said.

The lead plant had been shut down, he said, and the local government was paying medical bills for the villagers. An investigation was under way, he said.

'Full'

But regional newspaper the Huashang Daily said residents were travelling to Xian in neighbouring Shaanxi province for treatment because local officials insisted they were fine.

A baby with lead poisoning in hospital in Xian
Lead poisoning is particularly harmful to young children

One resident told the daily all six members of his family had elevated lead levels.

"The hospital is full of people from our county. Everyone from our village has gone there," the daily quoted him as saying.

"We don't trust local hospitals because they said our lead concentration levels were normal, so we travel to somewhere further away," he said.

Lead poisoning can damage the nervous system and, in serious cases, cause convulsions and even death.

It is particularly harmful in children and can affect their mental and physical development. "The paediatric ward is so full and it can't accommodate my daughters, we have to come back," the resident said.


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