<HTML><HEAD> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19019"></HEAD> <BODY> <H1 class="cN-headingPage prepend-5 span-11 last">Cover-up over millions of children poisoned by lead </H1> <DIV class="push-0 span-11 last"><!-- cT-storyDetails --> <DIV class="cT-storyDetails cfix"><CITE>June 16, 2011</CITE> <UL></UL></DIV> <DIV id=googleAds class="ad adSpot-textBox"></DIV><BOD> <DIV class=articleBody><!-- cT-imageLandscape --> <DIV class=cT-imageLandscape><IMG alt="No safe levels ... Sun Guotai, 5, left, who has lead poisoning from a battery factory with his mother, Hou Xioling, and sister Sun Yue." src="ctsipad-art-wide-chinese-lead-poisoning-420x0.jpg"> <P>No safe levels ... Sun Guotai, 5, left, who has lead poisoning from a battery factory with his mother, Hou Xioling, and sister Sun Yue. <EM>Photo: NYT/Sim Chi Yin</EM></P></DIV> <P>MILLIONS of Chinese children suffer from lead poisoning, despite a crackdown on contamination, and officials are systematically withholding the right to medical testing to cover up the problem, a human rights group has alleged.</P> <P>Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday that authorities are depriving victims of testing, treatment and prevention. It also said the government failed to force polluting factories to close and clean up contamination despite its high-profile effort to crack down on pollution.</P> <P>''Children with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood are being refused treatment and returned home to contaminated houses in polluted villages,'' said Joe Amon, the health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.</P> <P>In the most recently reported case, more than 600 people, including 103 children, were made ill from tinfoil processing workshops in the Zhejiang town of Yangxunqiao. All the children and 26 adults were suffering from severe lead poisoning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.</P> <P>Thousands of workers in Yangxunqiao protested against the poisonings last week and demanded compensation. This follows unrest that has swept across China, blamed on everything from rising prices and land sales to overzealous officials.</P> <P>In the past 2? years thousands of workers, villagers and children in at least nine of mainland China's 31 province-level regions have been found to be suffering from toxic levels of lead exposure, mostly due to pollution from battery factories and metal smelters. Chasing the political dividends of economic development, officials regularly overlook environmental contamination, worker safety and dangers to public health.</P> <P>This happened last month in Mengxi, a tiny village in eastern China, when 200 people broke into the Zhejiang Haijiu Battery Factory, a maker of lead-acid batteries for motorcycles and electric bikes and smashed the cabinets, desks and computers inside.</P> <P>News had spread that workers and villagers had been poisoned by lead emissions from the factory, which had operated for six years despite flagrant environmental violations. But the truth was even worse: 233 adults and 99 children were found to have concentrations of lead in their blood up to seven times the level deemed safe by the government.</P> <P>One of them was three-year-old Han Tiantian, who lived just across the road from the plant. Her father, Han Zongyuan, a factory worker, said he learnt in March that his daughter had absorbed enough lead to irreversibly diminish her intellectual capacity and harm her nervous system. </P> <P>''At the moment I heard the doctor say that, my heart was shattered,'' Han said last week. ''We wanted this child to have everything. That's why we worked this hard. That's why we poisoned ourselves at this factory. Now it turns out the child is poisoned too. I have no words to describe how I feel.''</P> <P>Mary Jean Brown, chief of the lead poisoning prevention branch of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week that ''no blood lead level has been found to be safe for a child''. </P> <P>Chinese leaders have acknowledged that lead contamination is a grave issue and have raised the priority of reducing heavy-metal pollution in the government's latest five-year plan, presented in March. At a news conference this month, Li Ganjie, the vice minister for environmental protection, said that every suspected case of lead poisoning would be fully investigated and that ''the people involved, whether they are children or adults, are well-tested and treated''. </P> <P>But despite efforts to step up enforcement, including suspending production last month at a number of battery factories, the government's response has faltered.</P> <P>At a meeting last month of China's State Council, after yet another disclosure of mass poisoning, the Premier, Wen Jiabao, scolded the Environmental Minister, Zhou Shengxian, for the lack of progress, according to an individual with high-level government ties. The government has not ordered a nationwide survey of children's blood lead levels, so the number of children who are at risk is a matter of guesswork. </P> <P><B>Associated Press, The New York Times</B></P></DIV></BOD></DIV></BODY></HTML>