Lead Children Denied Tests

Parents in China say authorities are failing to make good on promises to test children for lead poisoning.

Lead-Children-305.jpg Children exposed to heavy industry across China often suffer from high lead levels in their blood, like these shown at a treatment center in Hunan, Aug. 23, 2009.

HONG KONG—Promises by local government officials offering free blood tests to children affected by pollution from smelting plants in the central Chinese province of Hunan have yet to be fulfilled, residents and officials said.

An official at the hospital near worst-hit Wugang township, where more than 1,000 children are believed to have higher-than-normal levels of lead in their blood, said the hospital had not yet been told how to deal with the large numbers of worried parents trying to book tests.

"There are several dozen patients coming for blood tests every day, but I don’t know the actual patient numbers per day," said an employee who answered the phone at the Wugang People's Hospital.

"Senior management has requested a survey [of lead poisoning cases], and we will know the procedure in a few days' time," she added.

Local officials have promised the closure of privately owned zinc and manganese smelting plants after being hit by a wave of violent clashes between police and angry parents in central Hunan and northern Shaanxi provinces in recent weeks.

Official Chinese media also reported that free blood tests would be available for children affected by the polluting factories, but residents of Wugang say the authorities have yet to deliver on their promises.

Bribery alleged

"There are only three government permission slips for free individual blood tests for the whole village," a mother surnamed Wang from Wugang said.

"Some parents are willing to pay the cost themselves in order to have their children checked. However, local hospitals have been bribed by someone, so the parents never see the correct results," she said.

Another Wugang villager surnamed Zhang said she had been turned down for lead tests at several hospitals in the area.

"Some said there was no electricity, some said the machines weren't working, and some said the maintenance staff hadn’t shown up for work at the right time, and so on," Zhang said.

Some villagers even went as far as Hengyang city, taking their children to at least five hospitals, she said.

"But none of the children has actually been tested," she said.

A resident of nearby Shuangjiang village surnamed Liu said she was turned down for a blood test for her two-year-old as far away as southern Guangxi province.

"They knew about the lead poisoning cases in Wugang and they asked if I was from there," she said.

After she told the truth, the hospital refused to test her child.

Calls to the Wugang township government went unanswered during office hours Monday.


A villager from nearby Hengjiang village surnamed Wang said the township government had initially tried to cover up the widespread incidence of lead poisoning among local children.

"The government at first had promised to give an answer [to our complaints] but didn’t keep their word," she said.

"Then, the villagers surrounded the cars of officials. Finally, the government [said it would] allow three children to go for free blood tests," she said.

More than 1,300 children have been poisoned by lead from the year-old manganese factory near Wugang, with hundreds of cases also reported near a cement factory in Hunan's Lengshugang city, and Fengxiang county in northern Shaanxi province.

The Dongling Lead and Zinc Smelting Co. was ordered by environmental protection authorities in Fengxiang county to suspend lead and zinc production Aug. 6 following a public outcry.

Fengxiang county government has offered free blood tests for 1,016 children aged 14 and under from three villages of Changqing Township, official media reported.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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